Do you have a child who just refuses to try new things at mealtimes? Perhaps your child eats only a certain type of food or refuses foods based on a certain colour or texture? Maybe they play at the table rather than wanting to eat? Don’t worry if your child has some picky eating behaviours. Picky eating is common for many children from the age of 2 to 5 years. If your child is growing as the doctor suggests, they are most likely eating enough to be healthy. If you have concerns about your child’s growth or eating behaviour, talk to your child’s doctor.
How to Cope with Picky Eating
Your child’s picky eating is temporary. If you don’t make it a big deal, it will usually end before school age. Try the following tips to help you deal with your child’s picky eating behaviour in a positive way.
- Let your kids be “produce pickers.” Let them pick out fruits and veggies at the store.
- Have your child help you prepare meals. Children learn about food and get excited about tasting food when they help make meals. Let them add ingredients, scrub veggies, or help stir.
- Offer choices. Rather than, “Do you want broccoli for dinner?” ask “Which would you like for dinner, broccoli or cauliflower?”.
- Enjoy each other while eating family meals together. Talk about fun and happy things. If meals are times for family arguments, your child may learn unhealthy attitudes toward food.
- Offer the same foods for the whole family. Serve the same meal to adults and kids. Let them see you enjoy healthy foods. Talk about the colours, shapes, and textures on the plate.
Trying New Foods
Your child may not want to try new foods. It is normal for children to reject foods they have never tried before. Here are some tips to get your child to try new foods:
- Small portions, big benefits. Let your kids try small portions of new foods that you enjoy. Give them a small taste at first and be patient with them. When they develop a taste for more types of foods, it’s easier to plan family meals.
- Offer only one new food at a time. Serve something that you know your child likes along with the new food. Offering more new foods all at once could be too much for your child.
- Be a good role model. Try new foods yourself. Describe their taste, texture, and smell to your child.
- Offer new foods first. Your child is most hungry at the start of a meal.
- Sometimes, new foods take time. Kids don’t always take to new foods right away. Offer new foods many times. It may take up to a dozen tries for a child to accept a new food.
Don’t let Food Become a Battle
After the first-year, choice and quantity of food become the child’s control. You might find it hard as a parent to turn that job over to your child. However, no parent can successfully force a child to eat. A battle over food is sure to be one we will lose as parents. As parents what we can do is present the child with healthy choices. It is normal development for toddlers to want to control what they eat. It’s important that we as parents relax the power struggle. We can give the power to children by allowing children the choice of how much and what by using grazing boards with healthy options. The key is to not have a lot of junk food around, so they don’t make poor choices.
Some other helpful tips to make mealtime upbeat include:
- Make mealtime fun by adding lots of colour.
- Use a plate with a cartoon character on it and the child must uncover it as they eat.
- Use fun utensils or a character spoon or fork.
- Have a special placemat. Serve the right sized portions – you don’t want to overwhelm them by too much or too many choices.
- Keep it fun – let them play with the food and talk about the food. If this means they use their hands instead of cutlery, don’t stress!
- You join in too – children love to see us eating, so grab a chair and sit with your child while eating. I know as a parent myself it can be hard not to be multitasking while they eat, but if you take that time to make meal times special and interesting, children start to look forward to that quality time with you.
- Allow children to explore food with other children. This is a great approach, as it encourages them to try foods that they see others eating. Playgroups are great for this, as morning tea time exposes them to new foods and an upbeat social way of being around food.
As a mum who is now past the picky eating stage (that you think will never pass), I can assure you it does! My little boy who wouldn’t eat any meat, now orders the biggest steak and eats the veggies that come along with it. When we were in the picky eating stage, I never thought this day would come. So to all our parents out there struggling through this stage –– keep it fun and remember, “this too shall pass”!
Correct Portion Sizes
Additional Healthy Eating Resources:
Raising Children Network: https://raisingchildren.net.au/toddlers/nutrition-fitness/healthy-eating-habits/healthy-eating-habits
Kids Eat in Colour: https://kidseatincolor.com
Eat for Health: www.eatforhealth.gov.au
Blog Post by Supported Playgroups Team