Feeding A Picky Eater: 20 Tips And Tricks To Improve Their Relationship With Food

Let's be honest, we've all had a snack or two that we genuinely did not get along with. When I was younger, I totally disliked celery. I did not understand it and didn't care to eat it when it was on one of those luxurious veggie trays. Now that I'm older, I'm still not the biggest fan of celery, but I definitely eat it when I see it because, as an adult, I know how nutritious vegetables are. Children are a different story, though. There are many parents out there who were told their child would grow out of their picky eating phase, but years later, their child still has a limited palate, making eating time a struggle for all.

Picky eating can also lead to something more serious which can cause health issues along with general anxiety for fear of going out and trying something new. That being said, learning a few tricks will help our picky eaters eat more of the good stuff — here are 20 tips and tricks to try with the little one. If their eating habits continue to decline or worsen, it's imperative to see the child's doctor or a specialist, to make sure they're getting the proper nutrition they need to succeed and grow.

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20 Stick To A Routine

It's no secret that children need structure in their lives. Their schedule is your schedule, so they have to get used to what to expect every day. The same can be said for meals. Their breakfast, snack, lunch, and dinner routine should be similar every day, Not necessarily in what they're eating, but timeframe wise and what to expect from that particular meal (are their small games involved, is there a show they watch, etc...) The Mayo Clinic furthers this point by saying, "Serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day. If your child chooses not to eat a meal, a regular snack time will offer an opportunity to eat nutritious food."

19 Don't Make Them Something Else If They Refuse To Eat

The Mayo Clinic says it best, "Preparing a separate meal for your child after he or she rejects the original meal might promote picky eating." Imaging slaving away in the kitchen, making your family a beautiful meal and one child says, "No! I want pasta!" You then have to stop eating your meal just to make them some noodles. And if that's the case, what if you have more than one child, and the other kids begin telling you what they expect from you come dinner time the next day?

Stick to one meal for the entire family. If your child doesn't want to eat that particular meal, they can at least stay at the table and partake in the conversation.

18 Start Small

When it comes to giving your child they've never had before — start small. Serve them a food they've never tried in extremely small portions — enough where wind could blow it away. This can make your child feel like eating healthy (or differently) is fun. Penn State Hershey Medical Center's Dr. But Keith E. Williams says to use words of encouragement; "This is easy — you could be done in a second." As they get used to this particular kind of food, increase the serving size as time goes on.

17 Sensory Issues

Sometimes it's not necessarily that your child is "picky" but they could be dealing with some sensory issues. In this case, when a child does want to try something new, try your best not to get overly excited about it. Give them a little piece and walk away instead of watching them eat it like a hawk. That may intimidate them or make them feel like they're supposed to be feeling some sort of way.

If your child does have sensory issues and you've taken them to a feeding clinic — be sure to take notes of what they're eating, times, progress, etc...

16 Respect Their Wants And Needs

Even though your child is, well, a child, they're still a human being with different wants and desires than yourself. That being said, we have to respect our child and the choices they're making. They'll learn soon enough what works and what doesn't work. The Mayo Clinic suggests, "If your child isn't hungry, don't force a meal or snack. Likewise, don't bribe or force your child to eat certain foods or clean his or her plate." They continue saying, "Your child might come to associate mealtime with anxiety and frustration or become less sensitive to his or her own hunger and fullness cues."

15 Stick With It!

Your child may fight and scratch their way out of eating something new — they may even get anxiety over the dietary change. But stick with it! Parents.com explains Dr. Williams' (Penn State Hershey Medical Center) research in this area; "His research shows that once you get the ball rolling on tasting new foods, it takes on average only six attempts for kids to accept them."

These new meals or foods may take a toll on mealtime, so try them out during snack time so you can actually sit down and enjoy what you're eating!

14 One New Food At A Time

If your child literally only eats PB&J and crackers three times a day, it's important to introduce healthier new foods to them for nutrients. Of course, there are many kids out there who only want cookies or toast with jelly — it's all sugar! Sugar is always going to be delicious, that will never fade. So when it comes to trying new foods, don't force five different vegetables down their throat in one sitting. Try one new thing at a time! Once your child continues to enjoy eating, let's say, bananas, then maybe try a new food.

13 Eat What They Eat!

It's super easy for a child to not eat something because they don't see their parents or guardians eating the same thing. If they don't see you snacking on a carrot or cucumbers, why should they? To make things fun try new foods with your picky eater — or at least pretend to try a new vegetable with them. Be a good role model and show them that you're also open to trying new foods. Make it fun and exciting to eat something new and like it. At one point or another, every kid wants to be just like their mom or dad, so why not eat like them too?

12 Get Rid Of Distractions!

Let mealtime be mealtime in your household. How many times do we eat at the table with the TV on in the background? Or even eat in front of the TV? It happens every day. So when it comes to picky eaters, skip all the distractions. Allow your picky eater to focus on their food and not the TV or iPad. Bring up engaging dinner conversation and talk about what you're eating and why it's so good! The Mayo Clinic also notes that keeping the TV on will allow your child to see those sugary commercials, and only encourage them to eat nutritious foods.

11 Learn From The French

Maybe you already have one picky eater and are pregnant with your next child. If that's the case, follow the French. Care.com explains the French feed their infants a variety of foods while they're young so that nothing really scares them when they're older. Offering them a variety of healthy foods when they're young will make them comfortable and used to the foods that most kids dislike. Now, every child will have their favorite or least-favorite, but you'll most likely pass the whole picky eating phase.

10 Offer New Foods — Don't Force

It's important your child can trust you — especially when it comes to mealtime. You are their food ticket, after all. Giving them a huge bowl of carrots and scolding them to finish the entire bowl is probably not gonna happen. It's going to make your child associate mealtime with anxiety and being overwhelmed. Instead, try offering them new foods at first and see how they react. Describe to them what it tastes like and let them watch you eat it yourself.

9 Eat Together

Having your picky eater eat by themselves is not the way to go about it. Eat together as a family or in a group of positive people where your child will feel safe. Author Karen Le Billon explains how "At home and preschool, children encourage each other to taste new things." When kids see other kids trying new things, they'll eventually wanna try it too. In this case, however, it's with eating. And I think we all know that kids eventually trade and swap snacks around at the cafeteria tables!

8 Use Your Words Wisely

Karen Le Billon, author of French Kids Eat Everything believes most kids will grow out of their picky eating when done right, but instead of calling your child a "picky eater" to their face, say "You'll like that when you're a bit more grown up." Most kids want to be older or feel more mature, so saying something like this might be the small push they need. However, Le Billion does note that this may take some time, so don't rush!

7 DIY Garden

Having your child learn where your food comes from might interest them enough to try the food they're growing. If possible, create your own garden where they can plant their own carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers — whatever vegetables you love. Founder of Weelicious says, "My kids pick green beans straight off the vine in the morning on our way to school without my prompting. They feel so empowered knowing they're helping to grow food and it's gratifying when they get to eat it."

6 Get To Know What They're Eating

Le Billion has a great method for getting your children familiar with unfamiliar foods. Kids tend to say they dislike food before even trying it because they don't know what it is; they're confused. To get them a little more familiar with how food even works is "Show your child a raw beet and then let them touch it and smell it. Cut it open, and let them look at the intense color." It's kind of like show-and-tell but with different fruits and veggies. Go to a farmer's market and explore with your little one.

5 Chill With The Snacks

I know when I was growing up, I was a HUGE snacker. My parents didn't really care when we snacked because we were always hungry. We were very active growing up so we needed food more often than not. That being said, I snacked so much on chips and PB&J that when my mom made dinner, I barely ate it. We don't need picky eaters to feel this way either. If your child is hungry, make them a small snack but make it nutritious. And try not to overfeed them with snacks. Every child should be having three meals a day. Not two meals and a bunch of snacks.

4 Your Kids Don't Care About The Health Content

Telling your son or daughter eating carrots is important due to its high levels of Vitamin A is not going to give them the small push they need. They really don't care that carrots are natural teeth cleaners or that they're great for our membranes — it's all about taste. Instead of doing what most North Americans do and proclaim how much better junk food tastes than healthy food — go about saying how GREAT healthy food tastes. Healthy food always tastes good and it can slowly become a habit to eat more.

3 Kids Menus Are Overrated

Have you ever realized what's on a kids menu? Fried foods, cheesy foods – pretty much everything an adult would have on their "cheat day." (Or if I'm being completely honest, after a few too many at the bar.) If your child is already a picky eater, hide that kid menu away from them and let them pick something from the actual menu. Now, if you're worried your child isn't going to eat an adult-sized portion, have no fear — just ask if its possible to make a smaller version of that dish for your child. If they don't like what they ordered, just take it home.

2 No Rewards

There are a lot of parents who want to reward their child for doing something well or even doing something that's expected of them. However, offering sweet-treats as a bribe for them to eat broccoli is just hindering them. The Mayo Clinic notes "Withholding dessert sends the message that dessert is the best food, which might only increase your child's desire for sweets." They suggest to make "dessert night" one or two times a week instead of after every meal or dinner.

1 Make Mealtime Fun!

Why does feed your child (or even eating as a child) have to be stressful? Make mealtime fun! Whether it's breakfast, snacks, lunches, or dinners — make it something everyone looks forward to. Whether it's a card game everyone plays while eating, a topic of conversation everyone loves to bring up at the table, or just the way food is presented — make mealtime fun! There are so many life hacks and food brands that get kids excited to eat. From different plate shapes to unique dipping sauces for veggies, to different cutters to turn any food into a shape — we can make mealtime fun again.


Sources: Mayo Clinic, Parents, Care.com

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