If your child is a picky eater, it can be concerning. You may worry about your child not getting enough nutrients, and may also feel badly for your child’s experience. Picky eating is a way your child can assert their independence and understand their world. Fussiness is normal in young children, but if you’re concerned, here are some ways you can help a picky eater feel more comfortable with food.
Remain positive and relaxed
If your child is refusing food, it can be stressful – especially if they feel they’re disappointing you. However, remaining positive and flexible will help your child feel more relaxed about the situation. Offer your child food in a positive way, and model enjoyment about different foods. Don’t worry about every mouthful your child eats, and praise them for trying. This will help them make positive associations with mealtimes.
Even as adults, many of us investigate a new kind of food with a single bite or piece of it. Children are no different. If you’re introducing a new food to your picky eater, give them a very small amount to start with, and offer encouragement and praise.
Take advantage of what they already like
You may also see success by giving your child a small amount of a new food along with a food they already enjoy. You may also try “food chaining,” where you encourage your child to try a different version of a food they already like. This way, the presentation and cooking style of the food may be different, but the textures and/or flavors are the same.
Get your child involved
If a child feels a sense of control or ownership over their food, they may feel more willing to eat more things. Take your child grocery shopping and ask them to help you pick out the fruits, vegetables, and other nourishing food on your list. Encourage them to choose colors and textures they like. You can also ask for help around mealtimes, such as setting the table. Playing music during meal preparation, cutting food into fun shapes, and having a special picnic are other examples of ways to help your child have positive associations with eating.
Invite an adventurous friend over for a meal
If your child has a friend who is a more adventurous eater, invite them over for a meal. A recent Penn State study showed that preschoolers were more likely to taste mango when they saw a classmate do it. Resist making direct comparisons between the two children. Instead, let them enjoy their time together. Even if your child doesn’t end up liking the food they try, they will start to see that simply trying it is okay.
Sometimes, your child will seem to revert, deciding that they don’t like a certain food after all. This isn’t a step backwards. Continue to expose your child to this food without pressure or judgement, and they may feel comfortable enough to try it again soon.