Children may be picky eaters for a variety of reasons. Being resistant to new foods may simply reflect a developmental stage when children are beginning to develop their food preferences. Some children have sensitive sensory needs that can impact the way they tolerate textures and flavors. Below are some tips to help avoid power struggles and mealtime battles while increasing types of the food your children eat.
1 Denying children the permission to eat certain foods will often raise their desire to eat that food. Teach children that healthy foods are foods they can eat all the time, and foods such as cakes, candy, or chips are those they can have some of the time. Label healthy foods “all the time foods” or “anytime foods” and the less desirable foods “once in a while” foods or “sometimes” foods.
2 Keep healthy snacks around the house so that children have easy access to them and learn to choose them.
3 Make the experience around eating healthy foods fun by introducing and reinforcing foods in creative ways. Dip vegetables into desired dressings or sauces. Cut healthy foods into fun shapes with cookie cutters. Make a game out of guessing and testing which vegetables crunch the loudest. Help children brainstorm what they can make out of healthy foods. Have children pick fruits and vegetables in the store to bring home to try. Encourage children to offer ways to make or serve the healthy foods.
4 Keep meal times close to the same time each day. Offer water between meals, for if children fill up on juice, milk, and unhealthy snacks between meals, they are less likely to try new foods.
5 Begin with very small pieces of new foods. Let them know that since it is so small, it will be finished in a second. After your children eat it, offer a food you know they like. Keep increasing the size of the new food and decrease the size of the food offered after the new food.
6 Consider offering some new foods during snack time instead of meal times so that meal time does not become stressful. Remember that it can take an average of six tries for a child to accept a new food.
7 Children are more likely to try something new when they see a friend doing it. Consider inviting more adventurous food-eating friends over for mealtimes.
Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in Feeding offers parents guidance on taking leadership with feeding while their child is self-directed with their eating. As children grow, the parents’ role in feeding changes. Parents are in charge of what children eat when they are infants. As children grow, parents become responsible for what, where, and when children eat. According to Satter, older children should be responsible for how much and whether they eat.
For more information on the division of responsibility for feeding, see www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/cms-assets/documents/203702-180136.dor-2015-2.pdf
If you are concerned that your child’s development is compromised by picky eating, consult their doctor. Remember that habits do not change overnight, but consistency, small steps, and patience can help support progress towards better eating habits.
Graziella Simonetti is a parent educator for EAC Network’s Long Island Parenting Institute and works as an early childhood social worker for the New York City Department of Education. She holds an advanced certificate in parent education from Adelphi University and is a NYSPEP credentialed parenting educator. Simonetti is a former kindergarten teacher.