There is a lot of information out there on how to combat picky eating. This offers great advice but also indicates you are not alone on this picky eating journey. There were many moments when I felt I was the only one struggling with a toddler that would only eat toast and certain fruit. It was stressful and hard, but I soon realized that I wasn’t alone, and it’s quite common.
Then I decided to ease up on the amount of pressure I was putting on it and do what I could to feed nutritious food and not feel like a failure. My first son’s picky eating was specific to texture, as in he wouldn’t eat anything mushy or liquid based – no soup, oatmeal, and pizza were off the list. But now, he is four and it has certainly improved. Over time he has branched off to eat a variety of different food other than toast, still being particular about texture as that is his focus. My other boys are getting to an age where they are choosey with what they eat so they have different picky eating pain points.
Through my experience as a mom of picky eaters with both failed attempts and small wins, I have gathered five thoughts that have helped my kids become open to new foods. The journey of healthy eating is a long one and I do my best to offer healthy food and hope they pick up on healthy habits as they grow.
The following are my five thoughts that have helped my family gain small wins from picky eating and that I continuously use:
Exposing the foods your family eats early on helps familiarize your eaters with the type of food they should be expected to eat. This includes cultural spices and ingredients you cook with often. Start small so it isn’t overwhelming but stay true to the ingredients your family eats.
Seeing, touching, and smelling a new food or ingredient is all part of exposure. Bring it out often. Let them see it, touch it, smell and play. For example, my son who likes crunchy food didn’t start by enjoying carrots. It was a work in progress to get him into them. I continued offering him carrots in all forms (cooked, raw, roasted, cut up in certain shapes, etc.) but he kept putting them on the side of his plate or even throwing it on the floor. He one day decided to try it and he has enjoyed them ever since. He prefers them raw and crunchy so that is what he eats – a small win!
Positive experience in the kitchen and getting your kids involved in making the food is a great way to expose them to foods they are just not yet ready to try. Getting them involved in the preparation of the meal can certainly open their eyes and mouths to new foods.
We do this with smoothies. My kids are much more inclined to drink a fruity smoothie when they get to throw the fruits and vegetables into the blender and press the button. It just works and it becomes a fun activity for them. To make this less stressful for you, prepare the difficult parts of the meal and allow your children, if age appropriate to assemble, mix, cut, arrange, and stir. We also do this with pizza when time is on our side. I roll out the dough and dice the vegetables, but the kids put the toppings on themselves, and they have a blast.
Simply put, let them see you eating the foods you want them to eat. My kids are always interested in what I am eating and what is on my plate so when we eat breakfast or dinner, I try to show them how much I enjoy eating the food and offer the same.
Positive modeling can often come from peers and similar-aged kids. At your next playdate put out vegetables and fruits your company will enjoy but also items you want your eaters to be eating. You may be pleasantly surprised to see your picky eater open to a celery stick dipped in spinach dip. Kids in a similar age group can influence each other in trying new foods, just be sure they are also not picky. This also works in a school setting when positive peer pressure helps influence healthy eating habits.
Offer a variation of the ingredient. I am not saying to hide all the vegetables in the muffin, even though I do support adding extra vegetables into the muffins! I am suggesting changing it up. Ok, so the raw broccoli tree isn’t their thing just yet. Try offering “green nuggets” also known as cheddar broccoli bites that can be dipped in ketchup or whatever condiment your kids love most.
Tweaking the food, presentation, or story around the food you are offering can intrigue your little one, and keep an open mind to trying something new or different.
Avoid snacking throughout the day – if you are finding your kids are grazing on foods and snacks, they like throughout the day, their stomachs won’t ever get to the point of hunger for them to sit and eat a balanced meal. You want them to be hungry enough to eat the food you prepare.
Consistency and routine are important when winning mealtime with your picky eaters. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner should roughly be served at the same time, so your eaters have a structured routine and know what is expected during mealtime.
As I have learned at this point of my family’s journey, all you can do is continue to work on your picky eater’s comfort and openness in trying new food. Keep these five ideas in mind and you will see the little wins that come with it. I hope they help you as they did for me. Please share and comment below on what has worked for you or if you have a question.