Of all the things that make parenting little ones challenging, picky eating tops the list for many moms. While some children are seemingly born with a love of food, others have little to no interest. For many parents, panic sets in when worrying about their child gaining enough weight or getting the nutrients that he or she needs to grow. And, when meals turn into daily battles, it is often easier to defer to a couple of kid-friendly staples over and over than fight to provide a variety of foods.
Mealtime sure can feel like a “no-win” situation for so many of us. While there is no magic solution to getting kids to eat a variety of healthy foods, the good news is that there are clever ways to try and make eating fun for your little one.
Here are a few ideas to encourage you and provide your picky eating kiddo with a reason to eat up!
First, Know That You’re Not Alone. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, picky eating can be a normal part of development as children grow, particularly during the toddler years. As children begin to exercise their independence and explore sensory experiences, many are naturally hesitant to try new foods. While it’s easy to worry if your child will make it into adulthood without ever eating a vegetable, the truth is that children may need to be exposed ten or more times before they accept a new food. Your child’s picky eating experience is not unusual, and while it will take patience, this phase of development will likely not last forever.
Involve Your Kids in the Process. As every mama knows, breakfast, lunch, and dinner don’t miraculously appear on the table. From finding recipes and filling the grocery cart, to finally making your way to the kitchen, there are many steps to the process of preparing a meal. And, this could not be a better opportunity to get your kids invested in the process! We all know that kid battles are often about control, so consider giving your children ownership of what they are eating. For toddlers, this may be as simple as helping you pick out ingredients at the grocery store and washing veggies once you get home. As your kids grow, they may enjoy searching for new recipes and fostering their own cooking skills in the kitchen as your little sous chefs.
Make it Fun. We all know that kids are more inclined to eat dinosaur trees than they are broccoli. Entice your kiddos to try new foods by the whole process of eating it FUN! Here are a few ideas for spicing up mealtime.
- Try using cookie cutters to transform sandwiches into fun shapes. Pull in a rainbow of color onto your child’s plate. Use dishes and utensils with your kids’ favorite characters. A visually appealing presentation may be the key to getting your kiddo interested in eating.
- Choices are always fun for kids, so provide your child with “this or that” options that will give them a sense of ownership at mealtime. If you want your little one to have fruit at lunch, how about offering a simple choice like, “Do you want grapes or strawberries today?” While you don’t want to overwhelm your kid, one simple choice per meal may make them feel more invested.
- A little bit of creativity goes a long way in making things fun. For example, try a variety of dips for your kids to use when eating veggies and fruits. Set utensils aside and let your child use toothpicks instead of a fork to pick up bite-sized foods. How about throwing a couple of chocolate chips or rainbow sprinkles on top of a dish that would otherwise be ordinary?
Tap Into Your Resources. Fortunately, the Internet contains a goldmine of resources to help parents with recipe ideas, feeding strategies, and more. Here are a few popular websites and social media feeds designed to guide parents through the picky eating phase.
- www.feedlinglittles.com (@feedinglittles on Instagram) Created by a dietician and occupational therapist, this website provides parents with resources for preventing and managing picky eating and even includes online courses.
- www.yummytoddlerfood.com (@yummytoddlerfood on Instagram) This source provides a wealth of kid-friendly recipes for the entire family, in addition to practical advice for parents on managing picky eating.
- www.kidseatincolor.com (@kids.eat.in.color on Instagram) A registered dietician, along with a group of experts, created this website to provide parents with advice on getting kids to eat veggies and making creative meals and snacks. This site also provides meal plans for parents.
- www.solidstarts.com (@solidstarts on Instagram) Pediatric feeding experts and doctors developed this resource to guide parents when introducing new foods to babies and toddlers. This website also contains tips for preventing, and even reversing, picking eating in older kiddos.
- www.dryum.org (@doctoryumproject on Instagram) This pediatrician-led website is full of kid-friendly resources for eating, including a database in which parents and children can build their own recipes based on ingredients preferences and allergy needs.
Know When It’s Time to Reach Out For More Help. For some children, severe food avoidance may be the result of deeper issues. Feeding therapy can not only help children with medical conditions and special needs, but also those who have sensory issues or need to simply strengthen the muscles in their mouths to properly eat. If you are still concerned about your child’s eating after trying various eating strategies, follow your mom gut. Reach out to your pediatrician about getting some additional help. As with so many kid-related concerns, the sooner intervention occurs, the better for you and your child.
What are some of your best tips for picky eating? Do you have any winning strategies for helping your kiddo become a better eater? Please share, as we would love to hear!