Mar 6, 2020 | Mom Life
Contributed By: Kerry Jones, MPH, RDN, LDN from Milestones Pediatric & Maternal Nutrition
If you have a picky eater at home, then you are probably frustrated, overwhelmed, and lost with what to do next! It can be challenging and concerning when your child won’t eat their food. Maybe they don’t eat the same foods they used to or, perhaps, they won’t try anything new. No matter what your picky eater’s issue is, you are in the right place. Check out our 5 tips to get your picky eater to try new foods!
Is My Child Truly a Picky Eater?
Not all “picky eaters” are actually picky. Certain medical conditions, such as autism, can predispose kids to food aversions or issues with certain textures. If you are worried because your child is skipping meals or not eating much food during mealtimes, dive into why. Distractions at mealtimes, such as watching tv or talking to friends at lunch, can cause kids to leave a lot of their food on the plate or in their lunchbox. Sometimes, kids fill up on snacks or drinks throughout the day, so they are getting all the necessary calories, but not hungry when it is time for dinner.
If you are concerned that your child’s picky eating habits may be related to an underlying medical condition or may be affecting their growth or development, talk to your child’s pediatrician.
If your child is a picky eater, then I want you to know that you are not alone. It is estimated that 25% to 35% of children, especially toddlers and preschoolers, are selective eaters. Picky eating is a very normal and common phase that young children go through. However, that does not mean all is lost! The following tips can help your child be more willing to try new foods.
Establish a Schedule
Sometimes, kids do not eat their meals, because they are snacking too often and are simply not hungry. Other times, they may be holding out for something better, such as a snack or dessert. Establishing a feeding schedule for your children can be highly beneficial. Eating around the same time every day helps to establish a routine for their bodies to know when to expect food, ensures they are not grazing throughout the day, and allows them to be hungry and ready to eat at mealtimes.
Typically, younger kids need to eat every 2-3 hours, while older kids can go a little longer, typically 3-4 hours, between meals and snacks. For most children, 3 meals and 1-3 snacks spread out throughout the day works well.
Allow Young Child to Feed Themselves
If you have a young child or toddler, allowing them to feed themselves using their fingers or kids’ utensils can make a world of a difference when it comes to picky eating. This gives children more control and independence over their food intake. Self-feeding is also extremely important for children’s development. I know it can be messy at times, but it is extremely valuable.
If you are serving a new food, start with a small amount. I typically recommend starting with no more than 1-2 tablespoons of the new food, while serving larger, age-appropriate portions of foods they already love. Leaving some empty space on their plate makes the food look more manageable and less overwhelming to a picky eater. It also helps to reduce food waste, if they do not like the new food. Remember, they can always get more food, if they want. We want children to always be in control of how much food they eat.
Allow Only Water Between Meals & Snacks
After a child’s first birthday, I recommend that families only serve water between meals and snacks. This ensures that kids are not filling up on snacks or other beverages between meals. You can still offer milk throughout the day, but I recommend serving milk with meals and snacks and allowing the child to drink water the rest of the day. If we allow children to drink too much milk or other beverages throughout the day, they may not be as hungry for food and could miss out on the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
Don’t Give Up
This is the most important tip! Don’t give up. Learning to accept new foods can take time and children do not always take to a new food right away. Keep offering the new food many times and in many different ways. It can take 10-15 times before a child is even willing to try a new food. Be patient, keep going, and don’t give up.
I know having a picky eater can be very emotional and stressful, but I hope these tips give your family some reassurance that you are not alone in this and provide you with new ideas to try. For additional resources on picky eating, I recommend parents check out the following books:
- Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School by Jill Caste & MaryAnn Jacobsen
- How to Raise a Mindful Eater: 8 Powerful Principles for Transforming Your Child’s Relationship with Food by Maryann Jacobsen
If you would like additional help with your picky eater, check out my Picky Eating Program or consider signing-up for a nutrition counseling appointment.
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