Picky eating is VERY common for children, and the peak time for picky eating behaviors is during the toddler and preschool years. This is when you go through a range of emotions from being excited because your child tries a new food- to being incredibly frustrated because that new food is now the ONLY thing your child will eat! Well don’t worry! It is often just a phase that they grow out of eventually. In the meantime, here are some tips and tricks you can use to help along the way.
1) Use a Nibble Tray
Because of their smaller stomach capacity, children need to eat more frequently. Consequently, their behavior is often worse when they have gone a long time without eating. You can shorten the amount of time between meals and snacks by using a nibble tray. Take an ice cube container and fill each compartment with something different (e.g., cheese cubes, raisins, nuts, apple pieces, cereal pieces, chickpeas, orange segments, chopped sweet peppers, egg slices, turkey chunks, pumpkin seeds, etc.). Every hour or so, offer the nibble tray to your child. Let them take a few bites of whatever they want, no pressure for anything. They will start with their favorite for sure, but that probably won’t be there next time so they’ll have to go for something else.
2) Involve Your Child
Children are significantly more likely to eat if they have been involved in their food decisions along with the preparation of their food. So, let them be involved in any way that is safe and appropriate. When you take them to the grocery store, walk them through the product aisle and have them pick out some produce (don’t be surprised if they go for the colorful stuff and skip over all that green!). When you cook, involve them in food choices and food prep. For food choices, always give them options. Instead of saying, “what should we have as a side dish with our burgers?” say “Should we have carrots or green beans as a side with our burgers?” Giving them limited options allows them to feel they are making decisions while also ensuring you are ok with any outcome.
3) Let Go Of Meal Associations
So, why are eggs only for breakfast and chicken fingers only for dinner? There is no good reason! These mealtime distinctions have become totally arbitrary and there is no need to stick to them, especially if it stops your child from eating something. If your child likes vegetable omelets, why not start having them for dinner? If your child loves mac and cheese with broccoli, maybe that is a better breakfast option than cereal. Break out of your mold!
4) Make it Fun
Kids like things that are fun, In fact, we all like things that are fun! Mealtime should be no exception. Kids, like color, shapes, textures, fun names, etc., so why not make this a part of mealtime. You can make an “all one color” meal, or a rainbow meal; you can use food coloring to make white foods more fun and interesting, You can use fun names (think “trees” instead of broccoli, “bumps on a log” instead of celery, PB, and raisins) to make it more exciting. You can use dips to give them more activity in their meal. Think FUN!
5) Make Mealtime Happy and Comfortable
In order to increase your child’s likelihood of eating, you want to ensure they have a positive association with food and mealtimes! You want them to be comfortable at mealtimes- both physically and mentally. So, think about what would make them comfortable in both respects. Physically, they are not going to be comfortable sitting in the same chair as you. If they are in a high chair, would they be more comfortable with something to rest their feet on? If they are in a regular chair, would they be more comfortable with a cushion or an arm rest? Try and make it a physically comfortable environment for them in every way. Mentally, try and make it a light, happy, and enjoyable time. Tell stories, make jokes, avoid pressure and keep ALL stressful adult conversations away from the dinner table. Make mealtime pleasant and enjoyable on all fronts!
6) Be a Good Role Model
Finally, don’t expect your child to do something you are not doing yourself. If you are asking your child to eat chicken and broccoli, while you are having some leftover Chinese food, they are not going to be able to learn from you. So practice what you preach! Studies show that the most vital key to developing a healthy diet in children is their parent’s diet. So if you tell your kids to eat carrots instead of chips, make sure you are doing the same!
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Start implementing some of these strategies today and you might find yourself significantly less frustrated and your picky eater eating more than you’d ever imagined!