Is your child a picky eater?
Did you know it can take multiple introductions of a single food before a taste is developed for it?
It can take 10, 20, 100, or even more tries of a food before it’s accepted. Don’t give up on adding healthy foods just because it didn’t work the first, second, or tenth time.
Baby develops his taste patterns by 9 months old, so you’ve only got a few month to prevent picky eating habits! First solid food introductions (around 6 months old) don’t need to be baby cereals. Think puréed vegetables, fruit and finely chopped meats for protein (well-cooked too, to avoid a choking hazard). Mashed ripe banana, avocado and sweet potato are all nutritious options.
Now I’ll explain this picture. This is my dad. He’s a picky eater. He always has been. When he was a child, if he didn’t like something, my grandma never had him try it again.
I think I finally rubbed off on him. He’s recently eaten kale chips, and Brussels sprouts, and admitted they weren’t horrible!
We went out to dinner, and guess what?! Here’s dad, eating a BBQ chicken sandwich! If you know my dad, you know this is huge (he once told me ketchup is spicy)! He really enjoyed the sandwich. If I can get my dad to eat new foods, I know you can get your child to!
Why is overcoming picky eating important?
Your body runs off of nutrients from foods you eat, when nutrients are missing imbalances develop and symptoms and health problems follow.
Healthy skin for example requires a wide range of nutrients from all food groups and categories of foods. One of the first things I explore with children who have eczema is making sure their diet is rich in these nutrients. We often have to dig deeper to find the root cause, but we always look at nutrition first and this may surprise you, but it’s not about taking more foods out. In fact adding foods back in can help significantly.
Tips for Picky Eaters
Remember you are in charge! YOU decide what your little one needs to eat. It’s up to you to make sure his diet contains all the nutrients he needs to grow, develop, repair, function and thrive.
Keep offering the food to your picky eater. He doesn’t have to eat it. Simply exposing your him to it is an important part of the process. It is ok for him to pick up the food, play with it and feel it. This helps him get used to it.
Offer soft foods cut up in small pieces, and cut them smaller than you think may be necessary, avoiding anything that might be a choking hazard.
Give your child a spoon and let him feed himself. Giving him control of the situation may encourage him to eat a few bites.
Wait to offer a new food until your picky eater is truly hungry. If he’s just eaten or snacked, there won’t be much motivation to try something new.
Prepare meals with your picky eater as your co-chef! Give him a few bites of a new food while you are preparing it so he can get familiar with it.
Take your picky eater to a store that gives out samples like Whole Foods or Costco, and you might be surprised at what he’ll try!
Children are very impressionable and are great imitators. They will be more likely to want what you are eating, and to avoid foods you show disgust or lack of interest in when trying.
If you give them healthy foods, they will eat, and learn to enjoy them.
Having separate menus for different family members encourages habits we don’t want, and it’s too much unnecessary work! If your child has celiac disease and can’t eat gluten, to support him the whole family also should follow the same plan (there are lots of naturally gluten free grain options to choose from that aren’t processed gluten free products).
Some children are sensitive to the taste, smell, or texture of different foods. Experiment with different tastes, smells, and textures and if you think your picky eater may have a sensitivity, talking to a professional can help to rule out medical issues that make it hard to swallow or digest certain foods.
What to avoid
Forcing your picky eater to eat, this may make the behavior worse, and leads to an unhealthy relationship with food.
Nagging your picky eater, trying to make a deal with him to have just a bite or two, or that he can have dessert if he eats his vegetables teaches him that there is a reward attached to everything (and this certainly isn’t the case in life).
Be patient, be persistent, take small steps in the right direction, and you can get your picky eater to come around.
Brown J. Nutrition through the Life cycle 4th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth; 2011.