Picky eating is a common problem among young children and adults alike. You may be surprised to learn that studies have indicated up to 50 percent of children under the age of 12 consumed a limited number of foods, required food prepared in specific ways, expressed stronger likes and dislikes for food, and threw tantrums when denied foods.
Parents today are also more likely to report struggles over feeding and preparing meals. With busy schedules and limited budgets, it can sometimes be easier to go for the easier, not-so-healthy meal to appease a child. Plus, who wants to prepare a meal just for it to be turned away?
Rather than feel frustrated, you can turn to your pediatrician for advice. Together, we can help approach your picky eater with tactics that will increase their nutrient intake, improve their health and weight, and prevent long-term eating issues.
Below, we have outlined seven nutrition tips make dealing with picky eaters easier. To learn even more about this topic, download the Pediatrics East Parent’s Guide to Child Wellness for more tips on how to feed picky eaters.
What to Do If Your Child is a Picky Eater
The easiest way to find recipes picky eaters will like is to include them in the meal planning process. Planning meals around foods they already like helps the child feel comfortable.
Once at a good comfort level, you can begin incorporating those foods you’d like them to try can keep their appetite stimulated. For instance, substitutions of certain comfort foods – like a cauliflower crust for pizza or sneaking shredded zucchini into meatballs for spaghetti night – can help you add in vegetables, while presenting a familiar form of food.
Along with a comfortable menu, allowing a picky eater to help with meal planning, grocery store trips, and meal preparation can also encourage them to be more adventurous at the table. Seeing a wide variety of colors and textures in the produce section can establish an understanding of the difference between “real food” and pre-packaged snacks and meals.
Having your child help in the kitchen during prep time allows picky eaters to understand how much work goes into creating meals for the family. If your picky eater sees the amount of time and effort you put into lovingly caring for your family’s nutritional needs, they may be less inclined to turn down the fruits of your labor.
If you have a picky eater on your hands, establishing a routine may help explore other options. If Tuesday is always taco night or Friday is always pizza night, then you have one less meal to plan around a picky eater’s diet, and everyone knows what to expect for meal times. If possible, you can also plan and schedule snacks and meals around the same time each day to avoid pre-meal snacking, which can lead to an unwillingness to try more at the table.
PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD
One of the easiest ways to get picky eaters to try new foods is to make food fun. Let them get their hands dirty, and worry about the cleanup later. If your little one is still exploring the world of various textures, tastes, and colors, letting them eat with their hands allows them to experience sensory stimulation while learning about different kinds of foods.
You can get help stimulate a picky eater’s palate with food in a variety of ways. Building rainbows and making smiley faces with various shades of fruit or vegetables or using cookie cutters to create various shapes and sizes can spark interest in food and make meal time more fun.
Bring play time to the kitchen. Make time throughout the week to create healthy meals together to encourage the idea that preparing meals can be fun. Try creating some healthy snacks together, like these easy, nut-free granola bars.
Minimizing distractions during meal time can make dealing with picky eaters easier. Turning off televisions, radios, and removing other distractions like cell phones, iPads, toys, and video games can also help picky eaters focus on their meals rather than technology while at the table.
Focusing on the family rather than the food can create a more positive environment that welcomes conversation and relaxation rather than pressure to clean plates and finish meals.
Try making a game or a routine out of dinner conversation. For example, have each family member share one positive thing about their day or use family games that prompt meaningful conversations like these as a tool.
While it’s not a bad idea to be flexible in terms of what is offered at meal time, try to stick to a meal plan created with the picky eater in mind to avoid having to negotiate. After all, negotiating only encourages more negotiating.
If dessert is offered as a reward, they may come to expect it each time they eat something they don’t want to eat; we don’t want to encourage the idea that eating what’s healthy always deserves a treat.
Offering only one meal each night can cut down on the amount of pushback you receive from your picky eater. If you’re willing to prepare alternate options once, then chances are a picky eater will expect you to do so again and again. Making it clear that alternative options won’t be available can make picky eaters more likely to eat what’s offered to them.
BE A ROLE MODEL
Dealing with a picky eater may discourage you from wanting to try new foods and recipes at home or at restaurants, but being a good role model for your picky eater can actually motivate them to try new things, as well.
Being adventurous with your food, experimenting with recipes, trying new restaurants and menu items, and making meal planning and grocery shopping an enjoyable adventure can encourage a picky eater to think about trying new foods as a fun experience.
Try to set a positive example for eating healthy as well. Avoid pre-dinner snacking and overloading on processed foods and sugary snacks. If you’re binging on chips and salsa before dinner, your picky eater may take this as a sign that it’s okay to snack on other foods before meal time, when a less appealing menu may be enforced.
We all have our own individual food preferences, so if your picky eater doesn’t seem to be a fan of beets, don’t sweat it. They may develop a taste for it after a few tries, or they may simply be interested in trying other colors and textures. You can always try again later.
If one particular food doesn’t pass the picky eater test, don’t get discouraged. You can always supplement their current diet preferences with another fruit or vegetable they prefer to ensure a healthy amount of vitamins and nutrients are being consumed.
Many toddlers are picky eaters, which can cause parents to worry if their child is getting the proper variety of nutritious foods they need in their diet. If you’re concerned about your child’s nutritional health, schedule an appointment with one of Pediatrics East’s nutritionist. We can help build a nutrition plan to maneuver the frustration and make sure your child is on track to continue to grow and develop properly.
At Pediatrics East, we want your child and family to have a healthy relationship with food. Our dieticians can offer insight into how to keep your little ones happy and healthy.
PEDIATRICS EAST DIETICIAN
Download the Pediatrics East Parent’s Guide to Child Wellness for more tips on how to feed picky eaters and ensure your child’s nutritional health needs are being met.