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Tips for picky eating

little boy refusing to eat

Key points:

  1. Children may appear picky around food due to exploring boundaries and limits, taste preferences, or difficulties with trying new things.
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing new foods to children aged 36-48 months, who start eating more independently, to encourage healthier eating habits.
  3. Encouraging children to try new foods, presenting them at a comfortable temperature, and allowing exploration through touch, smell, and small bites can help them learn to accept new foods.
  4. Involving children in meal planning, making meals interesting and fun, communicating without distractions, and praising progress and efforts can create a positive mealtime experience and promote healthy eating habits.

There are many reasons why a child might appear to be picky around food. Sometimes your child is just exploring how much they can push against the rules and limits you set, maybe they really dislike a specific taste or texture, or they find that trying new things is difficult for them. This is especially true with children between 36 and 48 months of age because, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, around this age kids start eating more independently, using feeding utensils, and drinking and pouring liquids from open cups.

For this article, we’ll give you some ideas on how to encourage your little one to venture into tasting new foods, while also respecting their efforts for stating independence and autonomy at the dinner table:

  • Model eating a wide variety of healthy foods.
  • Combine new foods with others that are well-known and loved, and try to introduce one new item at a time.
  • Expose your kid to a fruit or vegetable garden, or have your 4-year-old go with you to the farmers’ market.
  • Make sure to present food at a comfortably warm temperature.
  • When introducing a new food, encourage exploration. Have your child try touching the food, smelling it, and taking a small bite out of it. Small steps go a long way.
  • Expose your child to new foods and keep presenting them frequently for a couple of weeks. Researchers suggest that by doing this, it’s most likely your child will learn to accept it.
  • Have your child be your little helper around the kitchen. You can ask them to help with simple supervised tasks while you cook or bake, like mixing and rolling little balls.
  • Make meals interesting and fun. You can try mixing colors and shapes into a plate.
  • Make mealtime a distraction-free moment of communication.
  • Encourage tasting everything on the plate, but don’t make it a rule to clean it off. This makes for a more positive experience, avoids power-struggles, and helps children get in tune with their hunger and fullness cues.
  • Give praise for progress and acknowledge effort.

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