From Picky Eater to Little Foodie: Five Small Tips that Make a Big Difference
Do you have a picky eater on your hands? Or a little one you think needs to eat more veggies? You’re not alone! All kids can get a little picky at some point in childhood.
Officially, picky eating is a fairly common problem (one study estimates about 20% of children are selective eaters). There is no official statistic for kids who eat all of their vegetables (it’s gotta be low, right?). But guess what? Every kid can learn to love all foods. And there are some small things you can do right now to make a big impact on your child's eating habits as they grow.
Ease up on your kids
This one is hard. We’ve all said things like “just try it” or “take one bite and we can go play”. This is pressure. While for many kids pressure works in the short term, over time it may backfire. Evidence has shown that kids who are forced to eat, often end up eating less. There are even studies to show kids continue to dislike foods they were pressured to eat as toddlers as late in life as as college.
So, if you want to introduce new foods, try serving them alongside familiar foods at the same meal. If your little one doesn’t want to eat the new food, at least you gave it a try. And you can repeat the same exercise at another meal time when they might be more open to it.
Little ones need to try things many, many times (sometimes 10+ tastes) before they learn to love a new kind of food. So don’t give up! Keep serving those new foods and be patient. Pediatricians and nutrition experts call this exposure. Exposure can start small with touch and build up to taste, but the more time they interact with new food, the more likely they are to try and like it.
Here's a great tip: try a ‘no thank you bowl’. When your little one decides not to eat a new food, ask her to put it in that bowl. She doesn’t have to try it, but she does need to move it off her plate. This is a sneaky way to build up to trying a new food. Over time, you may ask her to lick the food or try it when she’s ready.
Check your schedules
A very common cause of picky eating is that your child isn’t hungry. If your child is grazing during the day on snacks or drinks other than water, they might be inadvertently filling up. To improve your chances of a picky eater trying new foods, ensure they arrive at mealtime hungry. If your kid skips a meal, that's ok too, they can eat at the next scheduled meal or snack.
Easy thing to try: Dr. Maria uses snack and meal zones at home. This keeps the routine flexible, and the predictability helps her toddler stay tantrum-free (most of the time).
Play with food
Another way to take on picky eating? Explore new foods and familiar foods in new ways. This could be anything from going to pick cherries at a farm then baking a cherry crisp when you get home. Learning about food and doing activities that build ownership around food are great and expand your little one’s diet. Touching, playing with and cooking new foods are also helpful in fine motor skills development.
Easy thing to try: Foublie has a library of free food activities like recipes, crafts and science activities designed to prevent and manage picky eating.
Talk to a picky eating expert!
Nothing beats personalized advice. Registered dietitians with personal and professional experience with picky eaters are here to help you.
Easy thing to try: Make an appointment today.
This article brought to you by our partner foublie. Author Dr. Maria Rivera is a board certified pediatrician and toddler mom. Co-author Melissa Antal Iftimie is a nutrition and behavior expert. Together they founded Foublie, the pediatrician-approved virtual nutrition clinic. They are on a mission to help all families feed their kids with confidence. Want more? Check out their free resources on picky eating.