If your child is a picky eater, you might be worried about whether or not they’re getting the right nutrition. You may even feel guilty, frustrated, or stressed about the problem. What should you do?
While extreme picky eating can be a problem, it’s quite common for young kids to turn up their noses at certain foods. In fact, children often need to be offered a new food as many as 10-15 times before they’ll eat it.
Overreacting, getting anxious, or applying strict dietary restriction to try and “cure” the picky eating will do more harm than good. Schedule a time to talk to your pediatrician about the issue and make an educated game plan. In the meantime, here are some tips from our team for dealing with a picky eater.
1. Set realistic expectations
This isn’t flash-in-the-pan stuff — helping your child be more open to trying and eating healthy foods will take time. Setting realistic expectations for how much patience and consistency this process will require is important. It will help you avoid getting frustrated or feel stressed and in turn, help make every meal time a positive experience.
Especially avoid putting too much pressure on your kiddos to like any type of food the first time they try it. Remember, it can take up to 15 exposures before they decide to eat it!
2. Serve a variety of foods
A common problem we see is a parent finding one vegetable a child likes and then serving it at every meal. This is a problem for 2 reasons:
Variety is the spice of life and a key component of healthy eating. Your child will get bored really fast if you’re serving peas and corn for every meal.The same meal everyday teaches children monotony is normal, and eating new foods isn’t something they need to or should do.
So don’t get stuck on one thing. Switch up your meal-time menus and serve your child a variety of foods.
3. Let your child choose (but limit the options)
Give your child some control by providing food options to choose from. But this comes with a caveat. If you don’t want your kid to pick chicken fingers for dinner, don’t make it one of the options. Be selective about what types of foods you allow into your home.
It’s important to surround your child with healthy options so they can learn to make good food decisions outside of the home, too.
4. Don’t make separate meals
When it comes to meal times, your child should be served the same thing everyone else is eating. Catering to their picky preferences will only fuel the pickiness! Avoid making a seperate meal just for your kids.
But what can you do if they won’t eat it? You don’t want them to starve, afterall. One method other parents have found to be successful is to give a plain (seemingly boring) alternative. For example, if they won’t eat the meal, they can serve themselves cottage cheese or plain Cheerios instead.
5. Just because they don’t eat it, don’t stop serving it
This isn’t about finding the one thing your child will eat. Rather, you want to expose them to a variety of foods consistently until they become more comfortable trying and eating the foods. Eventually your child will try the food and maybe they’ll even start to like it!
6. Avoid going cold turkey on sweets
Completely banning candy, sugar, or other treats will not give you the result you’re hoping for. It’s okay to give your kiddo sweet treats once in a while. Strive for balance — whatever that means for your family and is suggested by your pediatrician.
Maybe it’s one treat a day, dessert after dinner, or a special ice cream trip every once in a while. Incorporating these “fun” food items into the week in a balanced way will help teach your child how to maintain a balanced diet out in the real world some day.
7. Get your kids involved in the kitchen
Asking children to help out with meal prep encourages them to be an active participant in the meal and can even give them a sense of control. They may be more interested in the end result (eating the food) when they played a part in creating it.
Some of our favorite ways to get your kids involved in the kitchen are:
Stirring a mixtureShucking cornPulling stems off fruit or veggiesToasting breadMeasuring ingredientsPouring ingredientsScrambling eggsTossing a saladSetting the table
8. Plant a garden or raise chickens!
Engaging in conversations about food, where it comes from, and how it grows is a great way to get them curious about different foods. We recommend planting a garden together or raising chickens or other farm animals. Kids love getting their hands dirty and it’s also a fun excuses to be outside together as a family.
If you can’t have a garden, some other ways to do get a conversation started are to take your kids grocery shopping or visit a local farmers market.
9. Meal time isn’t a battle zone
The more you push your child to eat, the farther away they’ll push away the plate. This is a normal reaction. In fact, much of what you might consider to be picky eating is actually just normal development behavior — kids asserting their independence and being wary of new goods.
So don’t turn every meal into a power struggle, trying to force your child to try a food or eat their meal. It will only make both you and your child angry. Your job is to get the food, prepare healthy meals, and present them to your child. Your child is responsible for whether or not they eat it.
10. Let them play with their food
For extremely picky eaters, even just getting them to interact with their meal is a win. Avoid dictating how they eat. It’s okay for them to get messy and have fun.
Let them use their hands, pull food apart, smell it, squish it — even if your child doesn’t eat it, they’re becoming more familiar with the food.
11. Get professional help with your picky eater
Our team at Oregon Pediatrics is on your side. We know how frustrating dealing with a picky eater can be. We’ll help you address any concerns about your child’s diet and eating patterns and help you encourage healthy habits for your kids.
Remember, the sooner a concern is recognized and evaluated, the sooner treatment and growth can begin. Contact us today for help.