I will admit that before I started working with families I held the belief that kids would eat just about anything if it was presented correctly. While I still hang on to this belief somewhat, I now know that natural tastes are as individual as snowflakes. No two are the same. I have worked with parents who lose sleep over their child’s eating habits and are constantly calling their doctors for ideas to incorporate more variety into their diets.
While it is difficult to answer all questions regarding picky eaters, I would like to give you some general information as well as some helpful tips to manage your particular picky eater.
Age Appropriate Eating
- 0-1 years: Help create a healthy digestive system by introducing lots of greens and fiber into the diet. A slow transition from baby food to adult food or new foods can help.
- Toddler-hood: Exposure to foods that are common in the house or that mom and dad are eating will get your child accustomed to eating these foods. Allow your child to try some of what you are eating. If they do not like it the first time, try offering it to them again at a later time.
- Picky eaters usually get better after the age of 4. If they continue as picky eaters at the age of 9, they will very likely be picky eaters as adults.
- Kids WILL eat if they are hungry. Allow for time between meals and minimize snacking. This prepares your child to eat properly, and as a bonus they will eat healthy foods!
- Some kids are picky eaters because their parents are picky eaters. If you think something is unappetizing, you are not going to feed it to your child. This is natural. It also speaks to the importance of exposing your child to many kinds of foods.
- Involve your child in meal preparation. Measuring, counting, mixing, watching the timer and some cutting can be a great way to get your child involved with the meal and excited to eat the outcome. This is also a great way to spend some extra time with your child.
- Start a garden. Encourage your child to get dirty and grow their own garden.
- Have reasonable expectations. Your child will not like everything you give them and may not like the same foods that you do. They will not like everything the first time it is introduced.
- Listen to your gut. Many parents get scared and give in to unhealthy diets and junk food because they are told that their child is underweight. Giving your child high fat and high sodium foods will up their weight but in an unhealthy, potentially habit-forming way. If you believe that your child is eating what is best for them (variety, quality, and quantity), stick with your gut. You know your child better than anyone else and should make the final decision when it comes to their well-being.
- Take your child out to eat. Watching other people eat is a great way to get hungry. They may be so excited about getting out of the house that even the same foods presented in another setting will be appetizing.
- Have a playdate and a picnic. The saying “monkey see, monkey do,” couldn’t be more true for kids playing and eating with their friends. Nothing is so important until a kid sees their friends playing with it or eating it. Have a variety of snacks available to your kids and their friends at playdates.
- Play with your food. While this seems counter-intuitive, kids want to learn about food using all of their senses. Touching, smelling, tasting, and seeing foods give kids an opportunity to make their own decisions about what they eat. If you are introducing a new food, relax a little and allow your child to play with it before eating. Remember, many young children end up with most everything in their mouths at some point. You can take advantage of this!
- Have fun with food. My grandmother used to cut our sandwiches with cookie cutters. I have no idea if they tasted good, but I ate them because they were fun. There are lots of ways to make food look fun. Try adding fruits and veggies to make faces, stripes, shapes, dots, etc. Allow your child to help “decorate” their plate before they eat.
The road for a parent with a picky eater seems long. It takes time, patience, and consistency to get over bumps in the road. Give yourself (and your kids) a break when you want to force feed your kids veggies. Remind yourself that you are in charge of your child’s well-being and giving them junk when they will not eat is not a good parenting decision. Nor is it the most healthy choice for your child. If you would like more specific recommendations or just need some support, please contact me directly.
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