As a dietitian and mom, I often find myself in a conversation with a client or friend about their children’s eating habits. Like sleep, potty training and manners, picky eating habits tend to make the list of “things that stress us out”. It’s tough to have a picky eater. No one wants to have to cook separate meals for their kids, have battles at the dinner table and worry about their child’s overall nutrition. It’s not fun. Luckily, like many childhood habits and phases, picky eating doesn’t have to be a forever thing. Here are some tips that have helped me raise a child with adventurous eating habits and a love for many foods including chicken nuggets, mac and cheese AND his veggies.
- Start Early: Introducing a variety of foods when it is age appropriate is important. The more flavors and textures they get used to early on, the better the chance they will continue to eat those foods and be open to new foods as they grow up. Feel like you missed the boat? Remember…its always better late than never.
- Start cooking: Finding the time to cook a meal is tough but SO worth it. When we cook with can prepare healthier options. We can create more nutritious versions of the foods our children love. We can offer our kids more variety. And, we lead by example. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. We can roast a sweet potato, steam some veggies, mash up some carrots. This is a win, win for the whole family.
- Cook with your child. The more involved your child becomes in the cooking process the more invested he or she will be to try the foods being created. True story: Hudson and I were “cooking” dinner. He has his own pot of goodies into which he added raw potatoes, navy beans, an ENTIRE jar of fennel seeds plus some salt and pepper to season it, of course. He proudly stirred it around and went in for a HUGE bite. I (in disgust) almost stopped him. I paused and let him have his taste. His reply…”Mmmmm, Yummy”. He went back for seconds.
- Let Your Child Decide: Nothing pains me more than to hear a parent decide for their children that “they/you won’t like that”. Take the fennel seed concoction above. If the food is safe to eat, let your kids try it and decide for themselves. Even as adults, we all like different things. The same goes for our kids. They ultimately may not like the food but allow them the chance to at least try it!
- Try Not to Project: Are you a picky eater? Do you hate your veggies? Don’t bring this to the table with your children. Offer them foods you may not like because, well, they may.
- Skip the snacking. A hungry child is more likely to eat a meal than the kid that has been snacking all day. Hold off on snacks an hour or two before meal time so your child is hungry and ready to eat whatever is being served.
- Eat with your children. Even if you don’t have family dinner, when your child is eating serve yourself a small plate of whatever you are serving them. Lead by example and they will likely follow. I have found that Hudson is eager to try everything I am eating, even if it’s just one bite.
- Offer different textures. Like adults, children have flavor and texture preferences. Offer a single food served in a variety of ways like carrots that are raw, steamed, roasted and mashed. Your child may like one and not the other, but you won’t know unless you try.
- Keep it Simple: I often present Hudson with a plate full of foods and at times it can be overwhelming. I also find that he eats his favorite item (that big bowl of watermelon) first. I think we all tend to do that! The answer, offer foods one at a time and start with the new food or the item you suspect they may not like.
10. Be Persistent and Don’t Give Up: I don’t know about you but, depending on my mood, I might be totally disinterested in a food I normally love. Our kids are the same. One night, Hudson may eat a whole bowl of sweet potatoes and the next day, push them away. Don’t react and take that food out of the rotation. It could simply be a phase. Re-introduce the food several times (ten or more) before you take it off the menu. Don’t be shy about re-introducing the food a few months or even years later! This parenting thing takes a whole bunch of patience!
What are your tricks for dealing with a picky eater?
Katie Cavuto MS, RD