Like many parents in America, you are probably working through some picky eating behaviors with your kids-and that can be tough! Picky eating is avoidance of certain foods, fits or tantrums at mealtimes and may even look like refusal to eat. It is very common for youngsters less than 6 years old, however, it can continue into adulthood. Many parents try to bribe their kids, require them to eat something or make only foods the child likes, which can all may picky eating worse.
Good news is there are tactics and skills for decreasing picky eating behaviors that cost no money and come with a variety of other benefits. Here are some tips for feeding your picky eater!
Eat meals as a family: Family meals increase confidence in children and reduce risky behaviors as they get older. They also allow the family to share the same foods and kids the chance to serve themselves. Turn off electronics and focus on talking during the meal. You can learn a lot about your child during meal time!
Allow treats: If a person is never allowed to have a treat, they may overeat it when it is available. Allowing sweets and treats helps your child normalize these foods and enjoy them in moderation. This also prevents sneaking these foods, which can lead to weight, dental and social issues. Normalizing treats and eating them in moderation is also a great skill for adults.
Check your habits: Kids follow people they trust. If you are a picky eater, they are more likely to follow in your footsteps. Use positive words to talk about foods and try a few bites so little ones will do the same. This can help you eat better and enjoy more variety during meals!
Small portions: Kids have very small stomachs, so they fill up quickly and may not eat much during the meal. Planning meals and snacks can help ensure kids aren’t filling up by snacking all day. It is always a good idea to keep milk and juice to meal or snack times and allow water between meals. Offer smaller portions so less food goes to waste.
Involve them in food prep: When kids make or pick out food themselves, they are more likely to try it. Provide age-appropriate kitchen tools and tasks to your child while you are preparing food so they can work alongside you. When you go to the grocery store, have them pick out a new food (ideally a healthier food) to taste at home. These activities also make for good bonding time!
Keep trying: Some kids need 7-13 exposures to a food before they are willing to eat it. Serving new foods with favorite foods can help increase likelihood of trying it. You can change how foods are cooked or flavored to prevent yourself from getting bored. They time you spend now helping your children eat more variety will pay off!
Kids are little people and they won’t like every single food they try. Picky eating becomes a problem when your child has growth issues, rapid weight changes, difficulty with certain textures, skips meals often or uses not eating to cope with anxiety or stress. It is best to reach out to a dietitian to help come up with a plan to help your child and family improve healthy eating habits.