How to deal with picky eaters: simple steps to help your fussy eater who won’t eat strong flavors or avoids textures.
Today’s post is a guest article written by my pediatrician blogger friend, Dr. Orlena Kerek. My kids eat really well now, but a few years back it sometimes felt like one of my kids in particular wouldn’t eat anything! Orlena has some fantastic advice for parents who are still stuck in this difficult spot.
End Picky Eating Now: Simple Ways to Help Your Fussy Eater
You’re sitting down at the table, ready for a nice family dinner. But your child shouts “yuck” and throws the food across the room, before they’ve even tried it. Sound familiar?
Most parents I know want their children to eat a healthy variety of foods. Unfortunately, their kids have other ideas. It’s particularly tough if your child is a picky or fussy eater and dislikes new foods.
Often children say, “yuck! I don’t like it!” before they’ve even tried something. This leads parents to avoid the offending item, choosing something with a higher chance of being accepted.
As a mother of 4 kids (one who is a “reformed picky eater” another who is deep in the trenches of “picky child”) I know how tempting it is to only offer accepted foods.
The problem is that we end up with a really narrow range of accepted foods, and when our fickle kids decide that they no longer like a food their diet becomes even narrower.
We end up serving the same foods time and time again.
There are many ways you can help your fussy eater; today I am sharing my two golden rules.
Rule Number 1. Don’t Pressure Your Child to Eat.
I know that this can be really hard to implement, especially when we’re tired and stressed. It’s tempting to end up yelling, “just eat your dinner!”
Or we try bribery.
“You can have dessert when you’ve eaten your peas”.
There are many problems with pressuring our kids to eat (including the risk of emotional eating and eating disorders later on in life), but the bottom line is that it doesn’t work.
You may find that you see a short term result without solving the long term problem.
Your job as a parent is to create a “happy and healthy eating environment” where your picky eater gains confidence to try new foods.
Your child should always remain in control of what actually goes in their mouth. (You offer healthy options, they decide whether to eat them or not. They don’t get to choose chocolate biscuits every day for dinner.)
This can be tough for parents, especially if we have the idea that “children ought to eat what they’re given”.
Can you image how you’d react if you were presented with a plate of worms in a restaurant and told that you had to eat them?
I’m sure you wouldn’t be keen, even if the waiter did offer you a free dessert!
Always make sure that there is something that is acceptable to your child. It doesn’t have to be their favourite, but try to pick something they won’t find completely revolting.
Rule Number 2: Offer Variety
Your kids don’t have to eat the variety, but they should be exposed to it.
Try not to “get into a rut” of always having the same foods at the same times.
Increase the “accepted” foods by offering similar foods to those your child already likes.
For example, if your child likes bread, try bread sticks, french toast, croissants, naan bread and different types of bread rather than the exact same bread every single day.
What Do You Do About Kids Who Don’t Like Foods Mixed Together?
Respect their dislike. There are lots of plates that you can buy that help children separate their foods.
You can’t force people to like things, and you can’t force children to like mixed up foods either. (Even if it is really frustrating!)
A great way to serve food is what is known as “family style serving”.
Instead of having one main dish, have lots of small dishes. (They don’t have to be complicated “dishes”, chopped up tomatoes counts as a “dish”.)
That way, if your child doesn’t like the main dish, there are other options available.
Some meals lend themselves to this method better than others.
One of our favorite family meals is crepes. (We all like crepes. You could do the same with baked potatoes, but one of my children doesn’t like baked potatoes.)
We make crepes and a variety of vegetables, cooked or raw, plus some protein (e.g. cheese, eggs, fish or meat.)
We vary the side dishes so that, although it’s the same accepted beloved meal, I’m still offering variety (which is basically anything I have left over in the fridge.)
Our individual meals look quite different. My plate has lots more vegetables than the younger kids, but the older children willing help themselves to vegetables.
What About Kids Who Won’t Eat Strong Flavours?
The flavors that we enjoy are a matter of habit combined with how sensitive we are to tastes.
“Super tasters” can be particularly sensitive to even a small amount of different flavors, whereas people who are less sensitive seek out strong flavors.
One of the reasons I dislike packaged foods is that they add lots of sugar and salt which helps to train our kids’ taste buds into liking those flavours.
Fruit and vegetables don’t have such high levels of sugar and salt, so the taste pales in comparison.
You can train your palate to taste things by eating less salt and sugar.
It takes times to get used to strong flavors. Start mild and keep presenting new flavors, but remember not to pressure kids.
For example, if you love curry you can make a mild curry and add yoghurt to it so that it’s even milder. Remember to serve something else that your kids will accept (even if it’s just rice and chick peas.)
How Do You Ease Kids Into New Textures?
As with strong flavors, start where children already are and work outwards.
If your child likes smooth yoghurt, don’t jump to huge great lumps in it. Try a “slightly less smooth yoghurt”, then progress to one that has bigger bits in it.
This will take time.
Teaching Kids Healthy Eating Habits
It takes time to teach kids to eat healthily. Think of it as learning to ride a bike. You don’t give up just because you fall over once.
Different kids have different issues, and some will naturally eat healthy options whilst others struggle with textures, tastes, smells, and even the idea of certain foods.
You can’t change who your child is, but you can support them by not making it worse by pressuring them to do things they don’t want to.
You can help your child become a more adventurous eater and more open to new foods by being supportive, not pressuring, and continuing to offer a variety of different foods.
3 Ways to Introduce New Foods Hand out.
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How do you end picky eating? What are your top tips for helping fussy eaters explore new foods?