4 Tips to Help Curb Picky Eating
By Angela Siebenaller, CACFP Specialist
Young children are notorious for developing picky eating habits in their early years, causing agony for many concerned parents. Picky eating can happen due to a variety of reasons, the most common being a natural preference for particular tastes, textures, or smells. Still, there are many ways you can influence your child’s eating for the better. These tips will help set up your child for success when it comes to forming healthful eating habits that will last a lifetime.
1. Be a Role Model for Healthy Eating
One of the best ways parents can curb picky eating is to provide a variety of nutritious foods and by modeling healthy eating habits. That’s right, one of the most important things a parent can do for their child’s long-term success with eating is to be a role model for what healthy eating looks like!
2. Keep Calm
It is also important to recognize the parent-child responsibilities in feeding. Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian specializing in childhood feeding coined the division of responsibility which specifies parental and child responsibilities when it comes to feeding within the family. According to Satter, it is the parent’s job to decide what, when, and where food will be consumed, and it is the child’s job to decide if and how much food they will eat. This strategy can be scary for many parents who worry about their child’s intake, but regardless it is ultimately the child who decides how much they eat. A calm, neutral and pleasant attitude toward food is always the best approach in feeding children. Avoid being controlling, anxious or unpleasant during mealtimes and instead be patient. It often takes children many years of exploring their individual eating preferences to develop healthy eating habits.
3. Try New Foods!
While your child may have several favorite foods (this is normal), these foods should not be the primary staples in their diet. Introduce a new food along with another food they are familiar with and if they don’t eat it, don’t worry, offer it again another time. It can take years of offering a food for a child to eat it. Always respect individual likes and dislikes, however, avoid becoming a short order cook. Preparing special meals for picky eaters will only reinforce picky eating behaviors.
4. Maintain a Meal Schedule
Remember, it is the parent’s job to decide when, where and what the family eats so it is up to you to keep a regular eating schedule. This normally consists of three meals and a snack or two each day. Maintaining a schedule will help your child show up to a meal hungry. If your child is grazing throughout the day or filling up on non-nutritive foods or drinks, they are not likely to eat the meal you put in front of them. You may also consider getting your child involved in the meal planning, grocery shopping and meal preparation/cooking. The more ownership and control they feel, the more likely they are to eat and even enjoy their meals!
For more information on childhood feeding check out Eat and feed with joy (ellynsatterinstitute.org).