What makes a child a picky eater?
A picky eater will eat just a few foods and does not want to try new foods. Almost every child goes through this stage for different reasons. Some children are trying to assert their autonomy, some like the attention they receive, and others simply dislike the taste and textures of certain foods. This causes many parents to worry that their picky eater is not getting enough nutrition to grow.
Will your child outgrow this?
Yes! They will probably eat just about anything once they pass this stage. So try not to worry. Picky eating is common for children from ages two to five. As a parent you are responsible for providing healthy foods. It’s your child’s responsibility to determine what and how much they eat.
Here are some tips to encourage your child to try new foods:
Start small – Give a food they like with a food they haven’t tried. Then, increase the portion of the new food at the next meal. For example, offer blueberry pancakes, carrot muffins or small chunks of broccoli in mac and cheese.
Stick with it – Gently offer a new food. Children need to be offered a new food 10 to 15 times before they eat it. Be a role model and try a new food yourself. This will encourage your child to try new tastes and shows them that we are adaptable.
Remember, your child will use food to try to get some control of his or her world. Dr. Rachel Busman, a psychologist specializing in anxiety at the Child Mind Institute, states that it’s very normal for kids to go through stages where they’re a little more picky, especially when they are trying to assert their autonomy.
Expect your picky eater to eat small amounts of food. Monitor their energy and growth for signs of good nutrition and health.
Make food FUN – Dr. Busman recommends creating family games to encourage new foods. She suggests making a list of new foods for the family to try and making a game out of it. Try something creative like Food Bingo.
Deal with food calmly – It’s important to teach your children that a meal isn’t ruined if it has a food they don’t like. Encourage your child to push the foods they don’t like onto another plate or share it with someone else.
Let your children help with the prep work – Being involved in grocery shopping and food preparation will give your kids more ‘buy-in.’ If they feel some ownership over the meal, they may be more likely to eat it. Additionally, trying food in the kitchen while it’s being prepared alleviates the pressures that come with sitting down at a table for a meal. Next time you are cutting up some fruits or vegetables, ask if your child wants to try a piece. It might surprise you how quickly they take the bait – bite.
Don’t force your child to eat – Forcing food distresses kids and builds negative associations with food.
Don’t make a second meal – Doing this sets a bad precedent and doesn’t encourage your child to try new foods. Dr. Busman suggests having a standard second option, such as salad and yogurt or cereal. This will be convenient when your child simply cannot tolerate the meal being offered. However, be mindful that this option is not ideal for the child who always wants to have a bowl of cereal every night for dinner. This method should be used for the occasional picky eater.
Bottom Line: If your child is a picky eater, don’t force them to eat. Instead, help them feel good about trying new foods. Remember, that it may take a while before they actually try the food, which is normal, so be patient. Most importantly, do not wage war if your child will not eat the green vegetables. As long as the pediatrician says your child is healthy and he or she is eating a variety of foods, don’t pick battles to get them to eat foods they dislike.
Written by: Lisha Andrew, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern