Top tips for picky eaters
What should you do when your kid only wants one type of food, or won’t eat their vegetables? Don’t worry, we’ve explained what picky eating is, why it occurs, and how you deal with picky eating! Read on to learn helpful tips to deal with the picky eater in your family.
Signs your kid is a picky eater
First of all, you may be wondering: what is a picky eater? According to research, the following are common characteristics of picky eaters (and signs your child may be a picky eater).
- They eat more slowly than the kids of their age
- They eat limited amount of food
- They regularly refuse food (especially fruits and vegetables)
- They always ask for the same meal
- They are highly reluctant to try new foods
- They prefer drinks over food
- They have strong food preferences
If your child exhibits several of these characteristics and behaviors, then your child might be a picky eater.
Causes of picky eating
There are plenty of theories regarding why a child may become a picky eater, however, studies aren’t conclusive. According to Cambridge, some of the potential causes of picky eating may be: demographics, parental characteristics, early feeding practices and psychosocial factors.
A study published by Yale indicated a difference in snack preference among kids based on the packaging of the snack. Children from the study preferred food with their favorite cartoon characters on the packaging over food with character-free packaging. So, this cultural factor may also have an impact on picky eating tendencies.
What are the consequences of being a picky eater?
Being a picky eater doesn’t necessarily mean that your child is unhealthy. Picky eating is often a phase that comes and goes for children. There are plenty of conflicting studies regarding picky eating and the risk of underweight or overweight children.
However, the best advice is to discuss any concerns you may have with your child’s pediatrician, as they can provide the best advice based on your child’s specific situation and health needs.
Top tips for dealing with picky eating
So, what can you do about picky eating? Check out our infographic and read on below for our top tips for dealing with picky eating!
1. Make food fun for kids
Use your imagination to make eating a fun experience. Don’t feel like being creative after a long day of work? No problem, we’re here to help! Here, we’ve put together some awesome ideas to upgrade your kids’ eating experience.
- Simple things like adding unique shapes or colors to food may make a big impact on your picky eater’s willingness to eat.
Another way to make certain foods more attractive is to create characters and animals with the fruits and vegetables. These easy-to-make pancakes and healthy Christmas recipes can help you to get the inspiration you need.
Using a blender to change the texture and color of food. Not only does this help to hide veggies in kids’ food, children also have a fun experience while watching the “food transform.”
“Don’t play with your food.” - it’s a common comment made by adults at the dinner table. Why not though? Gamification is a great opportunity to make the consumption of healthy food an exciting event!
One fun idea is to create a matching game for veggies and fruits. A good idea would be to make cards with pictures of the food on it and write the benefits from this specific food on the back of the card. The kids then have to memorize the advantages of this food → “Blueberries strengthen the immune system”, “Spinach makes us stronger.”
2. Mix in new foods
When it comes to feeding our picky eaters, it can be tough to find recipes that provide nutrition while pleasing the pickiest of palates. That’s why we recommend this method to make your kid eat healthier: mix new foods into their meals. So mix your mac and cheese with vegetables, the ice cream and yogurt with fruits, and add apples into the pancake mix. The key here is to mix vegetables or fruits with the food they already love!
3. Get the kids involved in cooking and choosing meals
Cooking can be a really fun activity to do with the family! Next to this, getting the kids involved in the process of cooking or choosing meals can be a big solution for some picky eaters.
If they have more choice regarding what they are going to be served, and even have a hand in preparing the meal, kids will generally be less picky when it comes to eating it!
Here are some ideas for getting your picky eater involved in the kitchen:
- Let your kids choose a recipe. It’s best to have some set recipe ideas for them to choose from.
- Create a game around it: assign the roles, ask your kids to (for example) “find and bring [insert the name of the vegetable/fruit you want]” and create whatever other rules you want in your game.
- Bring your kids to the market or the supermarket with you and introduce them to all the vegetable varieties.
Put on some sweet cooking music and involve your kids in the kitchen by giving them age-appropriate tasks to do, such as:
- Making and mixing dough
- Washing the vegetables
- Counting and naming the ingredients (very useful for improving their vocabulary and teaching them math!)
- Setting the table
If your kids are old enough, you can encourage them to read the recipe aloud! It will be a great and useful practice for them if they are currently learning how to read.
Getting the kids involved in the kitchen can be a great way to get them more comfortable with different foods, and who knows, maybe you’ll even transform them into little aspiring chefs!
Need some recipe inspiration? Check out our healthy kids recipes!
4. Find role models
In just the same way that cultural role models may have negative influences on children’s eating habits, role models can also have positive influences. For example, seeing a picture of Popeye enjoying his spinach and getting stronger because of it may also get them to see spinach in a more positive light.
Next to this, parents and siblings can be some of the most important role models for a child. So, make sure you yourself are modelling eating behaviors that you’d like your child to have. Being a positive role model yourself can also help improve your child’s picky eating habits.
5. Give them time to get comfortable with new foods
A study by Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2014 showed that it may take children up to 12-30 exposures of a new food before they decide that they like it. So, give them some time and explore the food together, step by step.
Most common mistakes to avoid
There are also several things to avoid when dealing with a picky eater. We’ve laid out the most important mistakes to avoid here below.
Do not get aggressive or shout at your kids.
Of course, discussions with your children can get a bit exhausting. But, it’s important not to let that exhaustion and frustration out in the form of aggression or yelling.
- Increased levels of anxiety,
- Stress and depression
- Increase in behavioral problems
Instead, always let the situation cool down if you start to feel frustrated and address the topic again at another point in time.
Do not use the dessert as a punishment or a reward
The dessert; typically the best part of the meal for a kid… It seems pretty tempting to use this to have control over what the kids will or won’t eat, right?
However, according to studies, using food as a reward or as a punishment can undermine the healthy eating habits that you're trying to teach your children.
Giving sweets, chips, or soda as a reward often leads to children overeating foods that are high in sugar, fat, and empty calories. Worse, it interferes with kids' natural ability to regulate their eating. It also encourages them to eat when they're not hungry to reward themselves.
Don’t say “oh they won’t like that!” when a type of food is suggested to them
If you respond with, “oh they won’t like that”, you’re already giving the child a negative response to being offered that food. They may start thinking they won’t like it either, just because you said so, even if they’ve never tried the food before.
Don't force your kids to eat
Every parent of a picky eater faces the ultimate dilemma: Do you let them off the hook if they don’t eat their greens or do you make them eat all the food on their plate, even when they don’t like it?
When you see your kid pushing food around on their plate, complaining they don’t want to eat or asking to be excused before eating anything, we might be inclined to use one innocent-enough phrase like “just a couple more bites” or…
University of Michigan researchers said insisting that children eat foods they don’t like isn’t linked to weight change or their behavior towards food changing. Actually, it could be way more problematic, causing meal-time tensions and damaging the parent-child relationship.
The study shows that demanding a child to eat or restricting food led to more picky eating, not less. It suggests that pressuring to eat causes a disruption in a child’s ability to self-regulate his eating. In other words, the sense of fullness is dulled, which affects the instinct to stop eating.
So while we of course still recommend eating a variety of foods, you may want to try taking a less controlling approach.
We hope this guide for picky eaters helps you have a better understanding of the situation you and your kids are in and gives you some tips on how to (properly) deal with picky eaters.
Looking for more recipe inspiration for your picky eater? Check out our recipe ideas!