Picky Eaters 101
Picky eating can be frustrating and inconvenient for both parents and children. Picky eating can also be hard to change. Patience and creativity are key to helping your child expand their horizons and incorporate a variety of foods into their diet.
- Listen to Your Child. The first step in dealing with a picky eater is to truly listen to your child’s wants and needs. What exactly do they dislike or avoid, and why? Certain textures, colors or flavors? Actively listening to your child — and not trying to convince them of anything — can help a child feel understood and more open to trying new things later. Asking your child about the foods they like can help expand food choices. For example, if your child likes carrots, you might try jicama, which is also crunchy and sweet.
- Don’t Force or Insist. Forcing foods or meals a child doesn’t want to eat is more than just “not fun” for you and your child. It can also create regular conflict and issues around eating, as well as enforce bad habits. It may even build negative associations with the food you are trying to get your child to eat. Start slow and have patience.
- Lay Off Unhealthy Snacks. Make sure the snacks you give your child are healthy and nutritious. Excess sugar and salt can spoil other meals, and might make it harder for them to enjoy actual meals with family or more nutritious choices. Offer cut fruit or veggies with dip, or perhaps cheese cubes to munch on between meals.
- Use Their Favorite Foods. Which foods does your child love? Modifying those foods to become more healthy — adding veggies to spaghetti sauce or soup, putting spinach in smoothies or having fruit as a side or on top of their cereal — can introduce better nutrition. This approach builds on what already works and helps you slowly incorporate other foods into the mix.
- Grow Your Own Vegetables and Fruit. Start your own kitchen garden and grow your own produce with your child. Watching plants grow can be an excellent learning activity and a lesson in responsibility. Best of all, children often lose apprehension about trying the foods they have grown themselves.
- Make Cooking a Family Activity. Choosing a recipe, picking out fruits and vegetables at the grocery store and cooking together are fun activities to do with your child. Often, if a child puts work into something they are making, it will make them more eager to try the food themselves. Ask which colors they love and see if they want to pick out some fruits or vegetables that are the same color. Make eating a fun experience!