When my son was a toddler, he was very picky about his food. All he wanted to eat was plain rice or plain pasta. My husband came up with a brilliant idea. He told my son: “You know, it’s the first time I cooked it and I’d love to know what you think about it. So, on a scale of 1-10, what do you think?” My son, recognizing the importance of his role, immediately tasted the food. It was a success!
When his sister was in preschool, we found that it’s all about the brand: Spaghetti and meatballs became “Super meatballs.” Salmon fish became “Pink fish” etc. Suddenly, food was so attractive!
Kids become picky eaters at some stage of their development. For many families picky eating causes stress and frustration, arguments, strict food limitations and a lack of flexibility. Some parents feel guilty or worry about their kid’s health. Some simply get angry: “why can’t they just eat?”
Children can become picky eaters for a number of reasons: Some children are naturally more sensitive to taste, smell and texture. Other children model their parents’ eating habits. Some develop picky eating habits as a response to punishments, bribes or rewards related to eating behaviors.
The goal for feeding a picky eater should be to try new foods and to keep food from starting a battle. So, what can we do to reach that goal?
1. Relax - This is the most important thing. Research shows that 10%-30% of kids and toddlers are picky with their food, and if you’ll ask parents the numbers are much higher. You are not alone. Most kids will grow out of it as they get older. However, if for any reason you are worried about your kid’s health, go ahead and consult with your Pediatrician.
2. Slow and consistent exposure to new food - When new food is a regular guest on the table, it’s not intimidating for kids. Keep in mind that it is a slow process so If they don’t want to try, that’s ok. Just keep doing it and let the child know that you are sure that one day he or she will try it.
3. Get them involved - either take them shopping for groceries or allow them to be responsible for part of the cooking. Once children are involved in the process, chances are they’ll want to be involved in the tasting part as well.
4. Be Creative - A plate of vegetables will be more appealing if it will be shaped as a funny face. Kids enjoy eating food served in an attractive way. The eyes have an important role in building appetite.
5. Encourage even the smallest bite - It’s a slow process and every step matters. Every attempt to try, every bite, is a step toward new experiences.
6. Be the model - try to have as many family meals as you can. Allow your kids to see you try different foods. Parents are models for eating habits.
7. No pressure - Parents are responsible for providing the food and setting mealtime. Kids are responsible for eating. Don’t focus on your child’s plate and try not to judge his or her choices.
8. Ask around - many times kids agree to eat new food when they are not at home. Ask the parent after hosting your child for a playdate, what your kid ate. Maybe you’ll get some ideas for new food.
The secret is NOT to make eating a big deal. As parents, we wish to educate our kids about food in terms of health and fun and not relate stress to it. For most kids, once they know that they are in control and that we know that they are responsible to make choices, they’ll be happy to eat or at least taste, whatever we’ll offer.
Lihi Netzer Tito
Parent coach, parent educator
and mom of 2 wonderful kids.