“MY CHILD IS A PICKY EATER. WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP THEM TRY NEW FOODS?”
February 26, 2020
By Alexa Wilson, MPH
When we hear the term “picky eater”, we typically envision a young child who is refusing to eat his or her vegetables, right? While this is quite often the case, vegetables are certainly not the only foods that children avoid eating.
Many children who are picky eaters typically consume a diet consisting heavily of carbohydrates and sugar. This is often the case as carbohydrates tend to be bland and doughy. Picky eaters gravitate toward such foods, since overpowering flavors and textures can be quite intimidating. In addition to trying new flavors, incorporating new textures into a child’s diet can be not only challenging, but also quite nerve-wracking for the child.
HELPFUL TIPS FOR PICKY EATERS
1. Bring your child with you when you go grocery shopping.
Children are observant and independent in their own ways, and they have their own preferences, particularly when it comes to food. Let them choose a fruit or vegetable of their favorite color, so they feel as though they made the decision to try this new food. It’ll make the whole process more fun for them!
2. When offering a new food to a child (whether it is a fruit, vegetable, protein, whole grain or dairy), always offer a bite-sized portion (I typically recommend the size of a blueberry), on a completely empty plate.
The bite-sized portion of food will make the process of trying something new less intimidating, compared to offering an entire portion. If we offer a bite of brand new food next to a food that the child already enjoys, they will likely eat the familiar food and leave the new one on the plate. Kids are smart, after all ツ
3. If your child is struggling with the taste and/or texture of the new food being offered, encourage them to spit it into a napkin. Do not force them to swallow it!
Whenever I offer this suggestion during a dietary consultation, I’m met with mixed reactions. 50% of parents are relieved, as they practice this method at home as well. The other 50% of parents are sometimes skeptical, and typically say “but I thought forcing them to swallow the food would help them to understand why it’s important to try new foods”. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Think about this logically (from a child’s perspective, not an adult’s): if you have just taken a bite of a new food, that you absolutely hate taste and texture of, is your first reaction to just swallow it? No. Definitely not. So, if you force a child to swallow it, they will gag or vomit. Trust me. Take away message? If they don’t like it, that’s okay. The single most important part of this process is the fact that they tried the food, regardless of whether it was a success or a failure.
4. Keep a notebook or a journal that is specifically dedicated to documenting your child’s reaction when trying new foods.
I tend to find that encouraging children to make trying new foods a fun project helps to remove unnecessary anxiety from the situation. My simple recommendation? Draw a line in between the page, and create two columns, titled “Foods I Liked” and “Foods I Didn’t Like”. Encourage your child to draw a ㋡ or a ✓ next to the foods they enjoyed, or a ☹ or an ✗ next to the foods they didn’t enjoy. Helpful tip for parents: try your best to document your child’s facial and verbal reactions when they try these new foods. You’d be surprised how convenient this can become, especially when food shopping and preparing future meals for your picky eater(s).
5. Consistency is key.
Each of the previous tips are equally important in the process of introducing new foods to a picky eater. What is the glue that keeps this process together? Consistency. The more consistently you offer new foods, the more comfortable your child will become with the process. I would suggest waiting three days before offering the same new food, along with offering it prepared with different flavors or textures. What do I mean by this? If your child dislikes cooked carrots, offer raw baby carrots, as they are sweeter and less bitter. If your child dislikes raw sweet peppers, offer diced peppers on top of home-made English Muffin pizzas. This usually does the trick ツ