Most children will go through a picky eating stage. They seem to eat absolutely anything when in day-care or being looked after by others, but will only touch the same foods repeatedly at home. It’s annoying and frustrating. You can find yourself worrying about them putting on weight.
In most cases, children will grow out of the picking eating stage. That doesn’t always happen though. You need to find ways to encourage children to eat a variety of colors and textures. Some of the reasons for being picky are due to disabilities, but others are due to preferences.
However long it’s gone on for or whatever reason, you may find yourself stressed over meal times. It doesn’t have to be like that. Here are seven tips to help you deal with picky eaters in the house and encourage trying more foods.
Let Your Kids Get Involved
When your kids help with some of the prep work and the cooking, they will feel more involved. They gain an appreciation for the food, which means they’re more likely to try it afterward. After all, they don’t want their hard work in preparing the food going to waste.
You can start getting them involved from a young age. Start with them just standing by while you chop up vegetables. Ask them to pass the next one to chop or ask them to get things out of the fridge and put things away. This is great for toddlers and pre-school aged children.
As they get older and their motor skills are better, you can ask them to help mix sauces or batters. Give them their little bowl for asalad to toss or hand them the bowl to do some of the mixings after you’ve mixed in most of the flour! If you can do things by hand, let them get their little hands in there to help. They’ll love getting messy.
When they get old enough to handle knives and burners, you can get them to help more with the cooking. Eventually, you can get your children to make a meal by themselves. They’ll love the independence, and it sets them up well for the future. They’re also more likely to eat something that they’ve put all the effort in. They’ll also understand why you were so disappointed when they were picky with food that you cooked.
You can also do some of this at the grocery store. Get your children to help pick up vegetables and fruits. Ask them to help with the cans on the shelves or to read out and cross items off the list (depending on age, abilities, and preferences of walking or sitting in the trolley).
Introduce New Foods One at a Time
Don’t expect your children to try everything new at the same time. This can be extremely overwhelming. They don’t know where to start and will be scared that they won’t like any of it. Rather than try anything, they push all the food to one side and stick to the food that they do like.
Ask them to try one new thing for a meal. Put a small amount of a new vegetable, sauce, or ingredient on the plate and just encourage them to at least get it passedtheir lips. Continue to do this at least 12 times if they say they don’t like it. It takes around 12 attempts for someone’s taste buds to grow an appreciation for some foods!
Once they try the food and don’t turn their nose up at it, encourage them to have a bigger portion. You can then move onto a new food next week. Take the same steps to encourage trying it. Soon you’ll have a range of new vegetables and ingredients to put in your shopping.
Don’t worry if your children suddenly tell you they don’t like something they’ve eaten all their lives. While their taste buds can change, most are doing it to get a rise out of you or to be awkward. It’s a stage as they try to gain some control over what they do and the food they eat. Encourage them to have a little and wait for this stage out.
When trying new foods, make sure there are a couple of foods that your child will love. You don’t want too many, as you still want to encourage the trying of new things.
Also, don’t tell your children that you don’t expect them to like something. You’re putting an idea in their heads. It’s common for parents to say, “I don’t know if you’ll like this…” or “this is new, so you might not like it…” but you’re telling your children what you expect (and it’s not good). Just give them the food and don’t make a big deal of it.
Don’t Force Them to Clean Their Plate
Dessert should be part of the meal. You don’t want to force your children to clear their plate in return for dessert. It encourages the idea of overeating, as many of us put larger portions than we necessarily need.
If children say they are full, then there are high chances that they are full. If they’ve left all the new food and say they’re full, encourage them to try a little but don’t force them to clean their plates. You want to encourage a healthy relationship with the food.
Don’t hold dessert back because they didn’t do as expected. Remember that dessert is part of the food. It’s not a treat to reward them or to hold back when you deem a punishment is necessary. This is the last part of their meal, and you need to make it clear that there is no food after this. If they are still hungry, they can finish their dinner that they’ve left.
Part of picky eating is not being hungry at all. This moves us onto the next tip.
Make Sure Your Child Is Hungry
Eating too much throughout the day will spoil dinner. Children can stock up on snacks throughout the mid-afternoon that they just don’t have enough room for their dinner.
Rather than getting angry, look at the food that you offer throughout the day. Create a schedule for meals and snacks. It will be hard at first, but you need to stick to this schedule that you create.
The schedule should involve three normal sized meals at breakfast, lunch, and then dinner. Put at least two separate snack times between the breakfast and lunch and then lunch and dinner.
It’s not just about timing. You will also need to think about the type of snacks you’re offering. Try to offer some fiber, carbs, and protein with their snacks. Cheese and fruit slices, vegetable sticks and a hummus dip, or some egg with toast strips tend to be preferred ideas. They are small enough to grab and eat while keeping the body energized until the next meal. You’ll also encourage the right development and plenty of other nutrients for a healthy body.
If you find you still have the issue with the lack of hunger at meal times, consider whether the portions are too big. You’ll be surprised at how little a healthy child will need.
Give Two Choices for Food
When it comes to meals, offer a choice. This is part of relinquishing the control over the food your child eats. It will help them to get out of the picky stage when they just want to gain some autonomy over what they put in their bodies.
Rather than giving a lot of choices, offer just two that you are prepared to make. They could be cereal or toast for breakfast, chicken nuggets or fish fingers for dinner, or chicken or pork for their salad wrap. Simple choices work just as great as complex choices. In fact, simple choices can work better.
Keeping to two choices will help to avoid the feeling of overwhelming. Think about when you go to a restaurant, and you’re given lots of choices for the food you order. It can often feel like a minefield, and you have no idea where to start. If it’s a place you’ve been before, you can end up ordering the same thing repeatedly because you’re just too overwhelmed by all the options.
Children get that same feeling. If they’re given too many options, they will recoil. They opt for something that they know they will prefer or they don’t make a choice at all. You’re left making the choices for them, and they don’t feel like they have any control over their food choices at all.
Make your two offers smart. If you’re not prepared to cook pancakes, don’t offer them! When you know they’re going to pick pancakes, don’t give the option of pancakes or a vegetable. Give them option of two different types of vegetables choose from. You still have some control without them feeling like it.
This method is also good for helping children develop decision-making skills. They’ll need these skills in the future.
Get Your Creative Side Out
Sometimes you should find a way to be creative with food. Some children don’t like eggs at all. They hate the texture and the feel, but will happily eat omelets and quiches. This is because they don’t see the two meals as egg-based, even though we know the truth.
You just need to find a creative way to offer food that your children say they “don’t like.” Most of the time they just want to have control. They will like the food, or they just don’t know because they’ve never tried it.
If it’s not a case of not liking something, it could be a case of not liking the look of something. This is perfectly understandable from an adult point of view. If a meal doesn’t look appetizing, there is no way that you will want to eat it. If it looks like slop, your opinion of the food is already jaded. Your children will think the same way.
When food looks bland, it must taste bland. Have some fun by creating “fox sandwiches” and “smiley faces” out of the ingredients. Your kids will be excited each meal time for what’s to come next.
Worried about that taking over your life? Stick to just one or two meals a week at first. Make it a surprise for them, so they don’t come to expect creativity with every single meal.
Lead by Example
If you’re a picky eater, your children will be too. They will pick up their food aversions from you. If you want to help them get over their hatred for certain foods and textures, you’ll need to show them that there isn’t a problem.
Of course, there are going to be certain types of foods that you don’t like. If you genuinely don’t like them, you can show that you have a similar alternative. Don’t like sweet corn? Opt for peas instead. Not a fan of kidney beans? Could you replace them with baked beans or black beans instead? There are lots of substitutions that you can make.
Try to have at least one meal a week as a family. When everyone eats together, children will follow the adults. They’ll try the new dishes and will follow examples being set.
Don’t make a big deal about your children trying new foods or eating something you didn’t expect them to. Let them go at the plate and congratulate them at the end. They don’t become self-conscious while eating.
The whole reason day-cares find it easier to encourage children to eat is that they have set meal times together. Your children will see others eating, so they will do it too without any questions. You can set that expectation at home.
It’s Time to Overcome the Picky Eating Problem
Your children will likely develop a picky eating stage at some point. It’s a frustrating time, especially if they seem to eat everything at day-care. It’s time to follow the tips above. The seven tips will help you overcome a child’s hatred for certain foods, encourage the trying of new foods, and set a healthy understanding and thought process about food.
Don’t push or get angry at your children. Many will be picky to gain some control over their choices. Help them do that by allowing choices that you’re more than happy to make and encourage them to make suggestions for dinner that you’re willing to throw together.