Parents deal with picky eaters all too often. As soon as your baby becomes a toddler, they're bound to have some objections about the kinds of foods you're offering to them. This can be especially frustrating if nutrition is important to your family. As your child's tastes mature and they learn to enjoy healthier foods, here are some tips to help you battle pickiness at meal time!
Stick to a Routine
Parents often think that kids need to be constantly eating to support their growing bodies. However, this can quickly lead to childhood obesity. In fact, 1 in 4 Australian children are either overweight or obese. Part of this trend may be due to growing portion sizes and parents serving kids more food than they need.
To avoid overfeeding your child, it’s a good idea to make a daily meal schedule. It’s recommended that kids get 3 meals and 2 snacks every day, and nothing more. This will help your toddler's diet remain balanced while keeping them from getting too hungry throughout the day. If your child chooses not to eat a meal, they’ll get nutrients when they eat a healthy snack later. Scheduling your meals and snacks will also let kids know that grazing on food all day is not appropriate. When you go out, plan for your snack times by bringing things like veggie sticks and fruit so you aren’t left making a pit stop for fast food!
Don’t Make Separate Meals for the Kids
One way to quickly wear yourself out as a parent is to be a short-order cook. This refers to cooking separate meals for your picky toddler instead of having them eat what everyone else is having. Cooking separate meals actually enables picky eaters, discouraging them from trying new foods or being adventurous. But, if your child is forced to eat the same meal as everyone else, they'll quickly learn to be more flexible. This also teaches them that not every meal they eat has to be their favorite. They will open up to the idea of eating something they may not necessarily enjoy.
Just make sure that there is always something at the table that your child likes, such as rice, a favorite veggie, or some fruit. This will keep mealtime positive even when your kid is faced with foods they don't like.
Respect Your Child’s Appetite
If you’re not making your kid’s favorite meal every night, chances are they won’t finish everything on their plate. And that’s okay! You should never force your child to clean their plate. In fact, this can actually cause children to get in the habit of overeating. Don't bribe or force your child to eat something they don't want to since this can cause your child to associate mealtime with anxiety. Even if your kid just nibbles some bread or eats a few pieces of fruit, they’ll have another opportunity to get their nutrients at snack time. They won't starve themselves, so don't fixate on how much your kid is eating. Instead, focus on making sure their meal experience is always positive!
Be Patient Introducing New Foods
Trying to introduce new foods to a picky eater can feel like an uphill battle. But, there are a few ways to make it easier! First, make sure you’re calm. If you seem stressed and frustrated, your kid is much more likely to throw a fit. Offer the new food as one of the first bites of the meal so your child is still hungry when they try it. This makes them more open to the new taste. Try to make it a habit of serving your kid new foods so they accept these new experiences as part of their regular mealtime. Most importantly, don’t give up after just one try. It can even take 10 or more tries of a new food before your kid likes it!
Make Healthy Meals More Fun
Making your healthy snacks and meals fun are sure to get your kids more excited about them. There are tons of great, playful recipes online if you need some ideas. If your kid has some favorite unhealthy snacks, you can probably find some healthy alternatives. They may not even notice the difference! For example, try making your own granola bars instead of giving them sugar-filled ones from the store. Or, try hummus as an alternative to cheese dip for veggies. If your kid doesn’t like eating greens with dinner, try making them a sweet green smoothie instead. Basically, get creative and see what fun and healthy meals you can come up with! Here are some great dinner ideas from The Spruce if you need something your picky eater is sure to enjoy.
Let Your Kid Get Involved
Including your picky eaters in your shopping and food prep will help them get excited about the foods they’re eating. Even if your kid is as young as 18 months old, there’s still something they can do to help out in the kitchen. For example, have them help you squeeze the juice from lemons and limes by using a citrus squeezer or just by squishing the fruit in their hands. Giving your kids taste tests of the food and asking them for feedback will help them feel involved and more in control over their meals, giving them the confidence to try new things.
So, stop treating mealtime like a battle. You can never go wrong by approaching difficult situations with a calm and positive attitude. Most importantly, model healthy eating behavior for your child. Children love to copy adults, and when they see you smiling and enjoying broccoli, they'll want to get involved!
Finally, reduce spills and messes during meals and snack time by checking out Little Piglet’s assortment of mealtime accessories. Stain-repellant bibs and spill-proof juice boxes can make your life a lot easier, especially when snacking on the road!