I know a thing or two about how to help a picky eater.
When my daughter Emma was 2, she started refusing certain foods. She wouldn’t eat any vegetables except corn. She didn’t like foods that combined items, so she wouldn’t eat pasta with sauce, casseroles, or soups.
At one point, she became such a picky eater that she wouldn’t even eat pizza without taking all the toppings off.
According to the Summit Medical Group, 20 percent of children go through a picky eater stage and most do grow out of it.
Here are a few tips to help avoid meal time battles and help your picky eater become less picky!
Tips to Help Your Picky Eater
1) Involve Your Child in the Cooking and Shopping
I noticed that when my daughter helped with the shopping and cooking process, she was more likely to try the food that we had bought and prepared together. From a very young age, Emma loved to help out in the kitchen. When she was 2, I invented jobs for her like stirring items that didn’t actually need to be stirred, just to involve her in the process. As she got older, I allowed her to do simple jobs like peel garlic, pull off cilantro leaves, open items, and wash veggies. Now that she is 9, she is learning to actually follow recipes and cook!
2) Serve New Foods With Familiar Foods
When we serve a new food, we make sure to serve familiar foods alongside it. So if we are having soup or an unfamiliar dish, I serve it with along with bread and a fruit or vegetable that I know our kids like.
At each meal, make sure there is something your child likes on their plate. Sometimes just offering a dip, like ketchup or ranch dressing can make a meal more appealing. Continue to serve well balanced meals even if they are rejected.
3) Offer Foods in Small Portions
Regardless of whether it’s their favorite food or least favorite item, we try to serve our children small portions. Sometimes large portions can be overwhelming to a child and may cause him/her to not eat. Our kids always eat better when less is on their plate. Plus, this reduces the amount of food they waste! And believe me, in a house with 4 kids, we are always trying to cut back on food waste!
4) Make Sure Snacks Aren’t Interfering with Mealtimes
Decide on your mealtimes and then only offer water outside of those meal times. Our family has breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, and supper. If you feed your child every time they ask for food, they are not going to be hungry at mealtimes. On the same note, milk or juice can fill up a child and cause them to not be hungry as well.
5) Don’t Be a Short Order Cook
If they aren’t eating their soup and you offer to go make them a peanut butter sandwich, this only encourages their pickiness. They will keep rejecting food each day to see what else you will offer. Jeanne from Have Twins First says:
“If my kids do not eat their meal, I save it. When they say they are hungry later on, I offer the meal they did not eat as the only option.”
Eat as a family. Offer your children the same food that you are eating. If you sit down together to enjoy a meal together, they will learn by your example.
6) Offer New Foods 10-15 Times
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, sometimes you have to offer a food to a child 10-15 times before they will try it. We found this to be true with our daughter. She just needed more time before she would decide to try something. We kept serving the food she had previously rejected, week after week. Sometimes we would offer it to her, other times not, but the food was always on the table. Eventually, she got curious and started asking to try the foods she had previously rejected.
7) Don’t Engage in Meal-time Battles
Don’t force a child to eat. That can definitely add fuel to a mealtime battle. Take on the motto that you are in charge of the foods that are offered and they are in charge of how much they eat. A child’s stomach is only the size of his/her fist, so sometimes they truly aren’t that hungry, especially if they had a large meal earlier in the day. As my husband always says “when they are hungry, they will eat!”
8) Drinks Can Interfere with Meals
Recently, I noticed that my 2 year old Ruby was not eating breakfast very well. She would beg for breakfast at 8am, but just an hour later ask for a snack. Instead of starting to feed her a mid-morning snack, I played around with our schedule a little bit. We pushed breakfast back until 8:30am to make sure she was truly hungry.
Also, I watched her at meal time. I noticed that every morning she was sipping down a whole glass of milk and then barely eating anything. When I started offering her milk in a regular cup (not a straw cup), she stopped drinking it so fast, and naturally ate more cereal. The food kept her full longer and she eventually stopped asking about a mid-morning snack. For us, switching to a regular cup solved the problem, but if your child still needs a lid on their drink, consider offering water to start the meal and then offer the milk at the end.
A few other helpful notes:
Our family only offers milk during breakfast and snack time, to encourage eating food and not filling up on drinks. We also only offer juice 1-2 times a week at snack time. I buy juice boxes, so they are already pre-portioned and I limit them to one juice box each. If you only offer water at meal time, your child is more likely to eat the food in front of them.
Stick to your rules. If you bend the rules, it will take days or weeks before your child stops asking/begging for something on the tiny chance that you might change your mind. The more you stand firm on your meal time rules and established normals, the easier your meal times will become!
I hope that this helps you avoid meal time battles and gives you a bit of encouragement as your child goes through a picky eater stage. In most cases, it really is a stage and it will soon pass. My sweet Emma is no longer super picky. She was very picky as a toddler, but she now eats pizza, chili, hot wings, gravy, and all kinds of foods she once rejected. So, there definitely is a good chance that they grow out of it! Good luck my fellow parents!
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