7 tips for winning over a picky eater
Strategies for keeping everyone happy (and healthy) at mealtime.
If you are the parent of a toddler, chances are you have had some struggles come mealtime. Fussy eating is a common concern for parents around the world, with many worrying that an uncooperative child at mealtime could lead to their child not getting the diverse source of nutrients they need.
Young children’s tastes and food preferences change from day to day – it can be hard to keep up! Here are our top tips for dealing with a fussy eater at home.
If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again
Did you know that a toddler may need to try a new food more than 10 times before they decide they like it? If your child is refusing to eat certain foods, there is no need to worry. In fact, this is very common. Gradually introduce new foods and keep coming back to ones that didn’t work well. Another strategy is to mix a small amount of the food your toddler doesn’t like with something they enjoy. Young children’s tastes change constantly. Something they don’t find appealing now they may love in a month.
Toddlers may need to try a new food more than 10 times before they decide they like it.
Offer a variety of nutritious foods
Though your little one may not eat everything you offer, the important thing is to provide them with a wide variety of nutritious foods to choose from. Let them explore the different colours, textures and flavours of fruits, vegetables and other food groups:
- Grains, roots, tubers and plantains
- Pulses (beans, peas, lentils), nuts and seeds
- Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese)
- Meat, fish, poultry
- Vitamin-A rich fruits and vegetables
- Other fruits and vegetables
If your child is having difficulty with a certain vegetable, try offering both the raw and cooked version – they may love one and reject the other!
Work as a team
The more your children are involved in preparing their meals, the more likely they will be to eat them. Bring your child to the market with you and allow them to choose or ask them what fruits, and vegetables and other foods they are interested in. Talk about their names, what they look, smell, feel, and taste like. At home, give your little one an age-appropriate task like stirring in a bowl or arranging cut vegetables. They will be proud of what they have created and excited to taste it.
Trust their gut
Don’t do battle with your child over unfinished food: If your little one is refusing to eat something, or eats a small amount, that’s okay. Don’t force or pressure them to eat, and don’t be tempted to offer junk food instead. It’s important for children to learn to listen to their bodies and understand their hunger cues. As long as your child is gaining a healthy amount of weight, staying active and seems to be well, they are likely to be getting enough to eat.
Keep portions small
Toddlers and young children have a much smaller stomach than adults – about the size of a clenched fist – so they are not able to eat the same portions as their parents at the table. Make sure you are offering an age-appropriate amount of nutritious food to your child and praise them for eating, even if it is just a little bit.
Don’t use food as a reward
By using food to praise good behaviour, children will come to think of certain foods as “good” (like sweets) and other foods as “bad” (like vegetables). This kind of thinking can lead to unhealthy eating patterns in adulthood. Instead, promise to play a game with them or take a walk outside – and keep the promise!
Be a good role model
Young children like to copy the behaviour of the adults they love and trust. If your child sees you eating healthy foods or a food they haven’t tried before, they’re more likely to want to try it too. Sit down and eat together and talk about the food on your plate and how yummy it is. You’re likely to raise a more adventurous eater if they know you’re taking the journey with them!
If you are concerned about your child’s eating behaviours, speak to your family health care provider.
Article by Mandy Rich, Digital Content Writer, UNICEF