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How to Help Your Picky Eater

Have you ever overheard another parent talk about how their little Taylor loves salmon, asparagus with hollandaise, or spicy gumbo? You know, foods your kids won’t touch! Why is it that Taylor loves these foods, and your child doesn’t?

Lucky Taylor (and her parents) for developing an advanced palate at a young age. The good news is, you are not alone if your child has a limited range of foods she likes. Try to see if there is a pattern around their issues. Is it all new foods, or is it only specific food types?

It is always wise to consult your pediatrician for advice if your child is a picky eater because it sometimes indicates food sensitivities or allergies to certain foods. Notice how most foods considered “kid friendly” are bland? Any child who has food sensitivities is more likely to embrace bland foods to protect themselves.

When my son was young, he didn’t like tomatoes, as in no spaghetti sauce or pizza sauce! The other kids thought he was crazy, but it turns out the acidity of the tomatoes didn’t sit well with him. He has food sensitivity to tomatoes. As he grew older, his body was better able to handle it, and he enjoys both now. As a little boy, he knew tomatoes hurt his tummy so he decided he did not like the taste. It was how he was able to verbalize that tomatoes did not agree with him.

As a young girl, I didn’t like fish because the fish I was served was not deboned. The fear of catching a bone in my throat terrified me. It wasn’t until I was older, and realized not all fish is served with bones, that I was willing to try it again. I now love fish, and I made sure that there wasn’t fear associated with fish when I served it to my children. Something as simple as the way a food is prepared can make all the difference.

So why does your child seem to be a “picky” eater? Fussy, picky or choosy eating habits are linked to and affected by many factors including personality traits, parental control at mealtime, and social influences. Or, it could just be your kid being, well, a kid!

Thankfully, there are steps to take to help your child develop a broader palate.

Help your child expand their food choices:

  1. Watch and learn. Eating together allows kids to view you trying and liking a particular dish. Just as important, children are natural mimics. If the household cook serves something that is not your favorite, don’t let your comments or facial expressions influence how the child will approach that food.
  2. Start early. As soon as your pediatrician allows you to experiment with new foods for your toddler, feed them the same food as everyone else. Children in a high chair want to feel part of the family too.
  3. Space meals to ensure your child is hungry. Remember your mom saying that you can’t have a snack because it will “spoil” your dinner? She was right (again!). Your child won’t be interested in eating healthy and/or new choices if he is already full.
  4. Don’t force-feed. We all know melon tastes yummy, but if you force-feed it to your child, she will be combative about eating, and distrustful of new foods. This goes along with the rule to “not leave the table until everything is finished”.
  5. Start with small servings of new foods. A large portion may be overwhelming, and he might reject it outright. A couple of bites doesn’t seem so scary.
  6. Don’t be a short-order cook. Try to serve at least one food choice your child likes, but if your child doesn’t like what you have prepared and you open the fridge to find something else, you are training them to be a picky eater. It’s OK if not every meal is their favorite.
  7. Hang in there. It can take 12-15 times of trying a new food for a child to admit they like it. At this point the child is familiar with this food.
  8. Include in prep. Children love to help. Ask your child to help you choose a meal from your DinnerTime planner to make this week. Make sure they choose one new dish. Mixing together or measuring spices is super fun (and messy), but children learn by doing, and are more willing to try something new if they helped to make it.
  9. Variety is key. Allow your child to choose a vegetable for dinner, but rather than having carrots every night, say, “We had carrots last night, so tonight’s choices are peas, broccoli or cauliflower. Tomorrow we can have carrots again.”
  10. Shop and garden together. At the market, allow your child to pick out the pretty yellow pepper, and talk about what you will be making with it. Children also love to garden, and the miracle of watching a plant grow will induce them to try new foods. Kids who think they don’t like peas will love a fresh, newly picked pea straight out of the pod. Nature’s candy!
  11. Have patience. Sometimes being picky is just a way for a child to exert some control. Find ways to embrace this need while gently pulling encouraging new food choices. As children grow, their interest in various foods may change. I had one child who loved salmon as a two-year-old, but not as a four-year-old. She was asserting herself in a way she could, and despite this frustration, she eventually outgrew it.
  12. Let them play. Yup, younger children like to pull food apart, make pictures with it, etc. The more familiar they become with the food, the more likely they will try it and enjoy it.
  13. Make sure dinner time is fun rather than focusing on what your child is not eating. Talk about your day, tell stories, discuss fun topics like, “If I was a dog, what kind would I be? Check out these conversation starters from The Family Dinner Project. Being together for a half hour of uninterrupted time shows your children how important they are.

Check out these family-friendly recipes!

Search in your DinnerTime Recipe Box for more kid friendly recipes the whole family will love.

Just the name sounds fun! Plus, the dish is yummy and nutritious.

Fries can be made with all kinds of veggies. Your kids will love to help make them.

Sweet warm apples make this dish a winner with all ages.