You can lead your children to food, but you can’t always make them eat it.
Common in toddlers and preschool-aged children, picky eaters tend to eat the same kind of foods regularly or reject a certain kind of food. It’s normal for children to dislike certain foods due to their color, taste or texture. Generally, that distaste will decrease or disappear with age and food experimentation.
But if your child thinks vegetables are cruel and unusual punishment, or is in a vegetarian phase, mealtime satisfaction can be hard to achieve. If your child’s pickiness is making every mealtime a battle, try these tips.
Set a Good Example
Young children tend to emulate their parents, from mannerisms down to eating habits. Your own food preferences are setting precedence for your child’s. If you won’t eat it, don’t expect your child to.
Make mealtimes a family affair. If your child sees you eating something, they might be more inclined to give it a try.
Keep Snacking to a Minimum
Your child may not be eating at mealtimes because snacks or juices may have already filled them up. Don’t allow snacking at least an hour before meals. If they’re hungry, they may be more willing and able to eat.
But don’t starve them either. If the munchies come long before mealtime, let them have a small snack to settle their stomachs.
Make Eating Fun
Sometimes, it’s OK to play with your food. Try offering foods of different shapes and colors. Turn meal prep into something you and your child can do together. Whether it’s arranging bacon and eggs into a face or helping spread the PB&J for an afternoon snack, letting them have a little fun with their food will make eating more enjoyable.
If you’re worried your picky eater isn’t getting the nutrition they need, sneak it in. What they don’t know is in their food, won’t hurt them. Try adding small pieces of vegetables into meals or make fruit a part of your breakfast as a cereal topper.
Pick and Choose
Encourage your child to try new foods by offering a variety of food in small portions and letting them choose what they want to eat. If it doesn’t work the first time, try and try again. Sometimes, it takes frequent exposure to new food to get your child acquainted. When grocery shopping, let them help pick out food. This will give them a sense of empowerment and make them feel like they have a say in making the family food decisions.
Not Everything Is Edible
You most likely didn’t like everything your parents put on your plate, so don’t expect your child to either. Some food preferences will stick around for the long run and that’s OK. Don’t force them to clean their plates, especially if they aren’t hungry. Forcing a full stomach when it wasn’t empty in the first place will only make your child like eating even less.
Bribery Is Not the Answer
Using dessert as a reward for eating sends the message that dessert is the good stuff, which may increase your child’s sweet tooth. Don’t use dessert as a bargaining tool, but don’t withhold it if your child doesn’t eat everything either. Try offering desserts with good nutritional value, too, such as fruits.
Some children come into their own eating habits a little slower than others, and eating miracles don’t happen during the course of one meal. Sometimes it takes small bites of this and that over time to change eating preferences. If all else fails, respect your child’s choices.
Picky eating isn’t always problematic, but it’s important to know when it is time to bring in some reinforcements. If you’re worried your child’s pickiness is slowing their growth, or that your child is losing weight, consult your doctor. Sometimes, picky eating isn’t just because of preference, but may be an issue of tolerance. If you notice certain foods make your child sick, it could be a food allergy.