Have you ever encountered a “picky eater”? This behavior is also known as choosy or fussy eating. It involves rejection to eat new foods, strong food preferences, and eating the same foods over and over again.
Variety is important in our diets, and that includes eating fruits and vegetables. Therefore, knowing the importance of healthy eating, dealing with a picky eater can be pretty frustrating. Mealtimes can become stressfully painful and a parent-child power struggle can arise leading you to ask, “What can I do?”. Don’t worry, continue reading and we’ll show you simple ways to tweak mealtime and go from fussy to foodie (or at least get your child to try new foods!).
Now, before we begin, it’s important to understand why pickiness arises in the first place. There are different theories surrounding this topic. According to research, the factors that affect choosy eating can include pressure to eat, temperament and personality, sensory sensitivity, genetics, parental feeding styles, and even specific factors such as absence of breastfeeding and lack of variety or late introduction to different textures. And that is not all, let’s not forget about the “terrible twos”. Toddlers are notorious autonomy seekers. This is actually a good thing because they are learning to become independent, but it can lead to food rejection. This is totally normal, so don’t sweat it. Here are some tips to help you solve this pesky problem.
- Snack attack: According to sociologist and feeding expert Dina Rose PhD, snack time is the best time to help your kid learn to eat healthy foods. Rose proposes we rotate fruits, veggies, yogurt, and even crackers or granola bars each day during snack time to add variety and nutrients to the children’s diet and to help them eat less healthy snacks in moderation. This will also allow you to provide exposure to healthy foods. Remember that it can take up to 15 exposures to a specific food for your toddler to try or like a certain food.
- My little chef: Maya Adams MD, avid child nutrition advocate, advices moms to take their children to the farmer’s market or fruit and veggie section of the grocery store and have them help pick out ingredients for delicious meals. This provides a fantastic moment to teach little ones what apples look and taste like, show them unpeeled oranges, and talk to them about how beets can “paint” a plate. Then, once home, take them with you to the kitchen and get them involved. Have them mix ingredients or toss ingredients into the skillet or blender, and even let them assemble their plate to give them a sense of control.
- Role model: Studies have shown that toddlers are less likely to eat vegetables if their parents didn’t consume them or they identified their children as being picky eaters. This shows us the importance of modeling healthy eating behavior and not labeling our children. So, show your toddler your love of greens and surround him with healthy eaters. Offer him a bite of what you are having or describe the taste. Let him be curious, play with him and set a plate of soft carrots and dip by your side. Who knows, chances are he might try it out!
- Choices galore: If your toddler does not want to eat strawberries on their own, why not try a smoothie and strain it if necessary. As stated by Dr. Sears, there are lots of ways to help make mealtime more fun and delicious. Offer dips (yogurt, cottage cheese, nut butters) for fruit and veggies. Teach them to spread these same dips on apple slices, toast, or crackers. Top food with cheese or guacamole, or sprinkle cinnamon onto baked apples. Be creative and let your child “decorate” his food his own way.
Finally, remember to be patient and take introduction to new foods one step at a time. Toddlers are learning to interpret and control their world as they grow, and this might include food rejection. But don’t give in, keep offering a wide variety of healthy choices, set scheduled routines, don’t bargain or bribe with desserts, and get your toddler involved. Remember to make eating fun and keep mealtime-stress to a minimum. On the other hand, if you fear your toddler is not growing appropriately or gags and vomits constantly when introduced to a new food, talk to your pediatrician. He/She will help identify any underlying medical condition or give you a specific feeding plan for your child.
Let us know how these tips work out and keep a look out for more tips and tricks to combat picky eating coming soon in our App!
For further information check out:
- Picky/fussy eating in children: Review of definitions, assessment, prevalence and dietary intakes.
- Child Nutrition and Cooking Coursera course (its free! All you need to do is sign up)
- Prevalence of picky eaters among infants and toddlers and their caregivers’ decisions about offering a new food.