At some point, you may have thought or stressed about how in the world to feed your child. You know they probably need some veggies, but what do you do if they just won’t eat them?
There are things to keep in mind when it comes to picky eaters but first, please know, that having a child who is a “picky eater” does not have anything to do with your ability as a parent. Also, if your child has textural issues with foods, you can work with a Speech Therapist or Occupational Therapist to help assist them.
The three things to consider if you have a picky eater (or want to avoid having one):
Humans are always trying to seek control of their environment. Tiny humans are no different. Kids have very little control in their own lives but one of the things they can control is eating. If you have a picky eater, think back to when the issue began. What was happening in the child’s life around that time? For example, did your child start a new school? Was there a new baby in the family? Was there a death in the family? Divorce? Marriage?
The circumstance doesn’t have to be a major life event for it to have an impact. Remember, to kids, most things (even those considered happy) are new experiences which can be unsettling. Even developmental milestones such as potty-training or transitioning to a big kid bed can give them a sense of not being in control which can then turn into a change in eating patterns.
Understand that this is NORMAL. Kids are trying to make sense of their world and when things happen that are out of their control, they seek to control what they can (similar to adults). When it comes to food, try having your child be part of the food process. You can also give them healthy options and let them pick (“would you like to have carrots, broccoli, or green beans with dinner tonight?”).
As a child, everything is new, including food. If someone handed you a spoon full of food that you’d never seen, smelled, or tasted before, you may be hesitant to try it, right? That’s how your child may feel. Rest assured that it is normal for it to take 7-10 and sometimes up to 30+ times of a child being exposed to a food before they try it.
The good news is, an exposure doesn’t just mean them tasting it. Examples of exposures:
- pointing it out at the store (“ohhh look at those pretty purple egg plants”)
- looking at a picture in a book
- having them watch YOU eat it
- singing a song about it
- putting a new food on their plate
- growing it in a garden
- letting them squish it in their fingers
Don’t pressure them to eat it (see above about control) and if they decide to try it, try not to make a huge deal about it (even though you may be doing an internal happy dance).
3. Parent language
One thing that we as parents sometimes forget is that our kids are ALWAYS listening. When it comes to food, that can mean that they are picking up on YOUR food preferences and experiences. For example, if you say that you hate spicy foods, your child may not even want to try anything spicier than ketchup 😁. If you talk to your sister about how you need to cut out carbs because of excess weight (which isn’t necessarily true by the way), that gets implanted in them and can influence their food patterns down the road.
With that said, you are allowed to have food preferences. If you truly don’t like broccoli but want to make it for your family because you know it’s full of vitamins and minerals, you don’t have to choke it down. Be mindful of what you say about it though. There’s a huge difference in language when you say, “I hate broccoli” versus saying “It’s not my favorite but I’ll try a little.” Simply putting some on your plate so your child sees that it’s normal to eat it (which counts as an exposure for them) can help open them up to the idea of eating it.
I get asked a lot if hiding veggie or fruit puree in foods is the answer.
As a nutritionist (and a mom of 4), I have mixed thoughts about doing this. I am all for making foods as nutritionally packed as possible so if that means making pudding with avocado or using blended dates in baking, then wonderful! The point that gets overlooked though is that you want to create lifelong healthy habits for your kids. If they grow up never being served a veggie at dinner (even though you put spinach in their meatloaf) then they will never associate it as something that’s “normal” or needed.
Remember, raising tiny humans is hard work and doesn’t come with an owner’s manual. If you feel your child isn’t getting the nutrition they need: 1. look back to circumstances around when it started and if possible, get them involved with the food choices. 2. Expose them to foods in different ways to get them more accepting to try them. 3. They are always listening. Be mindful of how you talk about your own food preferences, past, and feelings.
One final thought:
Kids go through phases. You may notice that your child may pick at their food one day, then eat more than a grown man the next. Let them be the guide on how much to eat. In doing so, you are teaching them to trust their internal hunger cues.
If you need support or have questions, please feel free to reach out to me. You can also join me in my free Facebook group called SuperMama Nutrition Community. This is a place for learning, sharing, and growing when it comes to nutrition.