One of the most exciting parts about watching your child grow up is the day you finally get to introduce them to solid foods. Initially, your child may be interested in whatever food you put in front of them. However, this probably won’t last forever and you may soon realize that you have a picky eater on your hands. While selective eating can be due to taste preferences, it may also be a sign of an issue unrelated to food. Either way, here are a few ways that may help you and your child get through this type of eating challenge.
Some studies suggest that it can take a child up to 12 exposures to a food to categorize it into their ‘likes’. An exposure can be anything from tasting the food, touching the food, preparing the food, listening to someone talk about the food, etc. Don’t force the issue. Rather, let them get to know the food in their own time, with the freedom to form their own opinion. Encourage them to associate positive experiences with the food that you’re trying to put on their ‘nice’ list. Remember grandma’s cookies that you could never get enough of? Your love for those cookies may have had more to do with your love for grandma than the cookies themselves. So, find a way to create happy emotions and feelings surrounding different foods.
Children need to see their parents eating healthy for them to form the habit. You don’t have to eat every meal together for this to work- try to aim for 3-4 meals a week. Sit down at the kitchen table with your child, remove all distractions, and use this as a time for family bonding. Not only will it benefit your child’s relationship with food, but you may also grow closer as a family while doing so.
When children feel overwhelmed with the portion size they’re given, they may refuse to eat anything at all. Instead of serving them a plate packed with food, give them a variety of small amounts of healthy food. This way, they can learn their own hunger sensations and ask for more if they’re still hungry.
Children love anything colorful, so why not serve colorful foods? Not only will this make it easy to give your child a variety of nutrient-rich meals, it will also make them interested in trying new foods. You can take it up a notch by bringing them grocery shopping with you. Have them find one produce item in every color, and look for fun ways to incorporate them into your dishes.
Categorizing foods as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ just might be the quickest way to make your child crave ‘bad’ foods. Alongside limiting access to certain foods, children very often crave what’s forbidden and off-limits. Additionally, once a food is vilified as “bad”, it may be even more difficult to encourage a healthy relationship with that item.
Food, specifically treats, shouldn’t generally be used as reinforcement for good behavior. Instead, offer treats alongside healthy snacks and don’t make the dessert more valuable than the main dish. Once you make eating vegetables the chore to get to the reward that is dessert, your child will try to skip the middleman and go straight for the treat.
Most things with children take time, and creating healthy eating habits that allow room for a variety of foods may also take time. Understand that this is a normal part of childhood development, and many children grow out of selective eating.
While it may feel like there’s no end in sight with your picky eater’s food preferences, these 7 tips may help alleviate the stress. At the end of the day, find comfort in knowing that you aren’t the only parent searching for creative ways to encourage open mindedness towards new foods. We’re all in this together!