By Olivia Cheng
Meal times can be tough on any parent. Getting the kids together and preparing healthy meals is enough work when you have a busy schedule. If you have a child who is a picky eater, it can add another layer of difficulty on top of all of the effort that goes into planning a balanced diet for your kids and preparing meals.
While being a fussy eater is a common stage for many young children, you don’t want to just let them eat whatever they want for every meal. You need to find ways to introduce new foods to their diet. With the following tips, parents can get picky eaters to try new foods.
When it comes to getting kids to try new foods, the earlier you start, the more likely you are to have success. Children develop their food preferences early, so it will be easier to get them to try new things while they are young. Furthermore, it is better to get them started with things like fruits and vegetables as snacks instead of junk food. If they develop this habit when they are young, it is more likely to be reflected in their food choices as they get older.
It can be discouraging to prepare a variety of foods for your child only to have them refuse them and ask for an old favorite. Some parents give up on getting their child to try new things when this happens. While this might feel like the easy way to go, you shouldn’t give up too soon. It usually takes multiple exposures to a new food before a child will like it. Keep trying to get them to taste new foods with repeated exposure and gentle encouragement.
Don’t Force It
You should keep offering your children the foods you want them to eat, but you should never force them into eating something. If you threaten punishment or make them stay at the table until they try the food, it can have the effect of making the food less desirable. Be supportive and let your child try new foods on their own terms. Patience is key in changing the habits of a fussy eater.
Don’t Make Food a Reward
Offering a nice dessert or a treat can seem like an easy way to get your picky eater to try new foods. While this might work to get them to try a new food in the moment, it could set them back as a picky eater. By making the one food a reward, the child is likely to value it more. Conversely, by making the new food something they have to try to get the reward, they are likely to view that food item as something they simply have to tolerate to get what they want.
Don’t be too Restrictive
You obviously want to restrict access to some foods; you can’t have your children eating cake and candy whenever they want. However, you should not be too restrictive. When you make certain items off limits, it only makes them more desirable. Instead of saying they can never have these treats, explain that while they can snack on things like fruits and vegetables whenever they want, foods like cake and candy are only for certain occasions.
Plan Family Meals
Family meals are not only good for bonding; they are also a good opportunity for you to be a role model for your child’s eating. Plan a healthy and quick meal for the whole family and try to avoid making something special that is just for the picky eater at your table. When your child sees the rest of the family trying and enjoying a variety of foods, there is a good chance that they will want to follow this behavior.
Meal Planning with Your Kids
The fact that your child is developing new food preferences can be used to your benefit. Take advantage of this stage by letting your picky eater participate in meal planning. You could sit down with a cookbook to let your child pick out new meals that they are interested in. You could also take your child to the grocery store to let them choose ingredients for new meals. When a child gets to play a role in creating the new meal, they will be more likely to want to try the new foods.
Let the Kids Help
Along with planning meals, you should also let your kids help in the kitchen. There are several cooking tasks that are perfect for young children, and it can be a great way to get them interested in new foods. When a picky eater gets to do simple things like measure and mix ingredients, the time they invested in preparation will translate to a greater interest in trying the food.
Find Healthy Alternatives
Once you know some of your child’s preferences, you can use that information to provide healthier foods and get them to try new things. To make foods healthier, you can look for options that are similar. Try switching to whole wheat instead of refined grains, or use low-fat milk instead of whole milk. Beyond that, you could also find ingredients that have a similar appearance and texture to foods they already like and use them as substitutes to get them to try something new.
Make it Fun
One easy way to get a fussy eater to try something new is to find ways to make food fun. Cut the new foods into fun and familiar shapes. You could also try making faces or animals out of food to make things more interesting. If you have a large food item, try cutting it down into bite-size pieces that will be easier for the child to handle.
Having a picky eater can be extremely frustrating for parents, and some days it feels like it would simply be easier to let them have what they want. However, encouraging good eating may be less of a hassle than you think. By remaining patient and understanding in your approach, your fussy eater will gradually become more open to trying new things.
(Contributed article from Yumblekids.com; photo from southasianaustinmoms.com)