All children will go through different phases of being picky when it comes to food. As frustrating as that sounds, your little one is only learning to express their independence, and this is all perfectly normal and part of growing up.
However, good eating habits need to start at the very beginning because implementing healthy eating habits at an early age will set your children for life. So even if every mealtime feels like a battlefield, teaching them to eat from a variety of food will allow their little bodies to get all the nutrients they need to thrive and grow stronger. By finding ways to positively broaden their little palates, eating healthy will become second nature to them in their adult years.
Ultimately, change is never easy, and it is unlikely that your little picky eater will reform overnight. It will take a lot of patience and consistency on your part. Expect some tears and whining, which is sure to follow. But with a lot of love, perseverance and encouraging praises, your little one might come around. Here are some tips for dealing with fussy eaters:
1. Educate and get them involved
A good way to pique your little fussy eater’s interest in food is for them to get to know them at a more personal level. This means bringing them grocery shopping and encouraging them to see, touch, and smell different food groups. Get them to name each food. You can always make grocery trips fun by making it a game to see who can name and describe the taste of each food correctly. Point out the fruits and veggies they are unfamiliar with and briefly explain why they are great for their bodies. The goal here is to educate them, and it is okay if they do not eat them when first offered.
2. Be patient and consistent
If adults get apprehensive when trying a particular food for the first time, what more to say, little children. Believe it or not, It might take 15-20 tries before your little picky eater decides that the food is not half bad. So remember not to give up even if your little one refuses to eat a new food on the first try. Repeated exposure will help them get used to its textures and flavours. So don’t rush it; give it time but be consistent.
3. Mess is okay
For some children, enjoying food is tactile to them. Some parents fear this as allowing them to physically touch and self-feed will only result in a huge mess. But by allowing more exposure, this might work in your favour. Studies had found an increase in food acceptance when children were pre-exposed to it.
So as much as we hate the mess, try allowing your little picky eater to reach for his food and feed himself. Finger food options are also great when offered under supervision; just make sure to cut into a safe size so that it does not become a choking hazard.
4. Work with textures they like
From the tender age of 6 to 12 months, your little one will slowly become better at eating new foods, and it is also the perfect time to introduce food with different textures gradually. For example, thin could mean crispy, thicker could be softer, and mash could mean gloopy. Introducing textures will allow them to progress from puree to more solid food, but it is also a great way to teach chewing. Slowly introduce minced, grated, chopped, chunky or even sliced food and see which is their favourite. Use this as an opportunity to teach them different ways to enjoy a particular food because sometimes it isn’t about the taste of the food; they just prefer a different mouth feel.
5. Offer options
Of course, this doesn’t mean they get to choose ice cream for breakfast, lunch and dinner. But your little picky eater might be more open to trying new food if they feel they have some control over what they can eat. This doesn’t mean parents must prepare 5 different seals to cater to each child. You can limit them to a choice between two healthy options and ask which they prefer.
6. How you present food makes a difference
If getting them to eat still proves to be a challenge, then try plating it differently and play with visual senses. You can try several tricks like serving food on a bigger plate to give the illusion that they are only getting a small portion. That way, they wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed or pressured even before trying. Try different placements with naturally coloured food by cutting them into interesting shapes and sizes. A little bit of visual gastronomy might just entice them to give a new food a try. However, if your child still refuses to try new food after all the effort, try your best not to show your disappointment and frustration. Take a deep breath, calmly remove the food and try another day.
7. Pack in as much nutrition as you can
If your picky eater only enjoys one thing, then do your best to pack in all the nutrition his little body will need. Food rich in vitamins and minerals will ensure that your little one has enough nutrients to complement their growth and development. Things like plain Greek yoghurt, which is rich in protein, calcium, and vitamin D, are great in fruit smoothies where you can even hide small handfuls of greens, and they will go unnoticed. So even if there isn’t very much to choose from, try to sneak in as much nutrient-dense food that would be beneficial for your little picky eater.
8. Be firm but do not force
It is normal for us to feel frustrated to the point we lose our cool. However, no good will come out of forcing your little picky eater because we don’t want to equate food with unpleasant experiences. If we continue to pressure or force a child to eat more than they want, they will start to get upset. Once they start crying, any chance of eating will go out the window. So as much as you dislike wasted food and effort, don’t put too much pressure on them.
9. Be a role model
Family meals are a great way to introduce new food. Children are always watching and learning from those around them, so make sure they see you eating the food you want them to try. Again, repetition plays an important role in increasing exposure to the new food. Perhaps with time, your fussy little eater will slowly accept this as a norm and finally try the food.
10. There is no better motivation than praise
All children love praises, and what better way to build a positive experience around food. So remember to praise your little picky eater when they finally decide to try new food. Shower them with praises, and they might just surprise you the next round!
We hope that these tips will help tired parents to deal with their picky eaters. What other tips have you tried? Do share them with us so that together we can be a strong support network for all parents.