Having a child who is a picky eater can be a big challenge and its natural for a parent to want their child eating a variety of foods from all the food groups. Often it starts off well and your child is eager to eat and accept new foods. Slowly the number of foods they were eating start to dwindle and you find yourself serving the same rotation of foods over and over. Dinnertime becomes a battle. If this situation sounds anything like you, here are the five key steps to helping your picky eater accept new foods.
1) Remove the anxiety at meals – Anxiety causes the fight or flight response and results in increased adrenaline which zaps appetite. Without an appetite at meals, your child no longer has any motivation to eat. Pressure at meals to try new foods can be the main cause of this anxiety. Eating Is the biggest sensory overload experience a child will have and for some children having to look, smell, touch, taste, and hear, (crunchy food), is overwhelming. Realize your child is having wonderful food exposures just by serving food family style. Let your child decide by seeing and smelling new foods if they are ready to try something new. Always have a familiar food at the table and take away the pressure, this will reduce the anxiety your child is feeling.
2) Serve family meals – This is the best opportunity for children to learn about new foods. Eating the same meals together as a family at the table is such a wonderful experience for a child starting at a young age. If you have gotten in the habit of fixing your child a separate meal, they have grown to expect it and they will not learn to like new foods.
3) Have a schedule for meals and snacks – Spacing meals and snacks 2-3 hours apart will give your child the opportunity to come to the meal hungry. If a child is hungry, they will be more open to trying a new food. When children are allowed to graze all afternoon or are given a snack an hour prior to dinner, this will be enough to suppress their appetite that they won’t want to try a new food.
4) Have positive food talk – Avoid labeling food as “Good/Healthy” or “Bad/Junk” and instead think of food as “Fuel, Growing foods, Muscle builders, Long Energy foods”. Desserts can be called short energy, fun food or simply sweets/dessert.
5) Cook with your child – Cooking with your child allows a wonderful opportunity for sensory exposure in a no pressure situation. Have your child wash vegetables, grate cheese, peel a carrot or scramble an egg. Kids who prepare meals in the kitchen are more often willing to try them because they feel invested in the process.
Remember, it truly does take a child 10-15 exposures to try and like a new food. If you continue to offer in a no-pressure atmosphere and follow the tips above, I suspect you’ll start to see some improvement. For more advice check out my blog post Getting Kids Involved in the Kitchen. If your child continues to struggle adding new foods to their diet, you may have a problem feeder vs. picky eater. Read more about the differences in my blog post: Picky Eater or Problem Feeder.