Every parent at some point in their children’s lives with deal with picky eaters. Children’s palates change so much during their first years that is hard as a parent to know what a toddler will or will not eat on a weekly basis.
Currently in our household, we are dealing with a fussy or picky eater. My otherwise food-loving toddler decided a few months ago that he no longer loves vegetables and that he would only eat fruit, eggs, chicken strips, pasta, bread, potatoes and rice. You know, the toddler favorites. He still eats most fruits I put in front of him, but as a concerned parent, I wanted him to branch out and eat more vegetables as well. So I started trying out different strategies to get him to eat more of the good stuff.
Over these past few months, there were some things that resonated with me and also some valuable finds! So I thought I would share with you in case you are also dealing with a picky eater.
For those who prefer videos, check out my collaboration with Beech-Nut® Naturals™ on YouTube.
Tips on how to deal with a picky eater
[ 1 ] Be a role model
Kids will emulate what their parents do, so it’s only natural they will want to eat what you eat. Any good habits that you want your kids to have will have to be learned from you. Eat as many vegetables you can during meals and snacks and let them see you.
[ 2 ] Serve vegetables with every meal
Even if your kids don’t eat certain vegetables or are stuck in the “white foods”(bread, pasta, potatoes) phase, serve it with every meal. If kids see it on the table, it’s more likely they will associate that as a normal event and consider vegetables an essential part of every meal.
[ 3 ] Don’t stick with what they will eat
I made this mistake, because it was much easier and I thought my son would starve if he didn’t eat anything, but kids won’t starve. If they are hungry, they will eat. By giving them just things they will eat, you are perpetuating those bad habits and possibly raising even pickier eaters.
These days, I serve 1/3 of food I know he will eat, 1/3 of food he eats sometimes and 1/3 of food that he doesn’t eat.
Of course, if you notice your child is loosing weight or shows signs of hunger, it’s time to talk to a pediatrician. There are other things that can be happening such as sensory issues or problems with chewing.
[ 4 ] Hide vegetables
Some people say you shouldn’t do this, because 1) you can create distrust in your children and 2) children should learn to eat vegetables in their natural form so they know where they come from.
I disagree with these points, because 1) food is complex – we don’t eat vegetables by itself all the time. Some of the best dishes are combinations of flavors, so if I want my child to be exposed to a diverse world of food, I need to introduce it early and 2) children can, should and will learn where food comes from with other activities such as grocery shopping, gardening, field trips and books.
My philosophy is if hiding veggies gets them to eat it, then so be it. My son doesn’t eat carrots by itself. I’ve tried raw, steamed, mashed, puree, roasted… He just doesn’t like it. But he loves my carrot applesauce muffins, which are packed with carrots.
Most adults have likes and dislikes and I don’t think it is different for children, which brings me to the next point.
[ 5 ] Don’t stress
I used to have that dreaded mom guilt and feel like I was failing, because my child had suddenly decided that chicken fingers was the only thing he would eat. Or so I thought.
Once I started really paying attention, I realized he eats a lot more. He will eat virtually any fruit and there are some vegetables he never says no to. This kid can eat his weight in tomatoes, corn, peas, beans and cucumbers. So, why should I be stressing out if he doesn’t like broccoli and carrots? I shouldn’t and neither should you.
[ 6 ] Try different preparations
As I mentioned before, I tried every preparation for carrots there is and my son still doesn’t like it, but he will eat some vegetables raw or cooked better. It’s about texture. So if your child is not eating green beans one way, try another. You might be surprised.
[ 7 ] Be consistent
Don’t overwhelm you child with every vegetable you see in the store, but continue to present it with every meal. Consistency is key. Even if they don’t eat, make it available. I put small amounts in his tray and if he doesn’t eat it, that is fine. It feels like a waste, but sometimes a few pieces make it in and internally I do a happy dance.
[ 8 ] Act like it’s no big deal
I used to make such a fuss if he ate or didn’t eat something. Then I realized that my son was starting to use food to manipulate me. He would bring things to his mouth and wait for my reaction and either spit it out or throw it on the floor. Now, I act like it doesn’t affect me one way or the other. I keep the celebrations internal so he doesn’t associate any food with my reaction. Sometimes, when introducing him to something new I will serve it to him and walk away and watch him from a distance. That way he is free to form his own judgement on a new food.
[ 9 ] Go back to puree
This was so surprising to me. Recently I was working with Beech-Nut, a brand I used when introducing Roark to solids. One day, I had a thought while looking at the jars- will he eat it if I gave it to him now?
I used a jar with vegetables that he usually doesn’t eat and lo and behold, he ate it – the whole jar and asked for more. I was stunned and of course elated, but how didn’t I think of that before?
[ 10 ] Remove distractions
You know that first point of being a role model and that kids will emulate what you do? Well, my husband and I were a childless couple for over 10 years of marriage and we developed some bad habits – watching tv during dinner was one of them. Naturally, our son picked up on this and became hooked as well. He would take ages to eat, because he was so distracted.
Now, I remove all distractions and the only thing to entertain him is his food and our conversations. No more TV or phones are allowed at dinnertime. R eats much faster and is more deliberate on how he eats. He likes to use utensils and that takes concentration at his age.
[ 11 ] Serve vegetables with a dip
R loves humus and will eat almost anything dipped in it. Most times he will just lick it off the vegetable, but sometimes he will take a bite. Humus is super healthy so either way, I see that as a win. He also loves tomato sauce, so I give him vegetables to dip in it. Other dips could be yogurt, peanut butter or even dressing.
[ 12 ] Get kids involved if they are old enough
R is too young for cooking. He likes to watch, but can’t quite help yet. However, he loves grocery shopping. I let him pick fruit and when we get home, I let him try it. Recently he picked some plums and loved them.
[ 13 ] Remember it’s just phase
Children’s palates change a lot faster than ours. What your child liked or disliked a month ago, may not be what he/she likes now. That’s ok. Just keep introducing the same things and also new foods, and eventually they will find foods they love.
Sure, some people never grow out of being a picky eater, but most of us eat more than 5 foods, right?
[ 14 ] Don’t force it
It causes trauma when you try to force feed a child. I know this from first hand experience. I was a picky eater and when I 4-6 years old, a family member tried to make me eat raw tomatoes by force feeding it to me.
I didn’t eat raw tomatoes until I was in my late twenties and I only eat it now when it’s mixed with other things like bruschetta or salsa. So please, don’t force feed your children.
I hope these tips on how to deal with a picky eater help you find a trick that works for your child. Remember, parenting is hard work and although there are many books on the subject, every child is different. Listen to your gut and do whatever works for you!
If you have any more tips, I would love to hear it. Please leave them in the comments below!