Mealtime with picky eaters can be very challenging.
Babies can show like and dislike for certain foods because they are not yet accustomed to flavors and textures. This is especially true for babies that have been eating solids for less than six months. Here’s some ways to get your child to eat a greater variety of foods:
1. Make your own baby food and use breastmilk or formula.
Making baby food at home is much healthier for baby and gives you full control over what your baby eats. Store bought purees (even the organic kinds) contain additives, chemicals and preservatives. Some babies may dislike the taste of jarred, preserved foods. Try making your purees from fresh ingredients, and add breastmilk (or formula) when making puree instead of water. Babies are sustained on formula or breastmilk from birth so they already like the flavor of it. Adding it to their purees and cereals may make it more acceptable to them.
2. Let them decide what the family eats.
Toddlers naturally seek independence. They have begun to figure out how to control their environment and notoriously use mealtime to assert their likes and dislikes. This can make it difficult for a parent that has chosen to serve the wrong food. The solution here is to include them in decisions by giving them simple choices at mealtime. Offer no more than two different food options and let them pick which one the family will eat. Make sure that both options are acceptable to you. For example, if you are going to let them pick the side vegetable for dinner and would be happy with peas or carrots, you could say, “Should we have peas or carrots for dinner?”
3. Have him/her help with mealtime.
Young children love to be helpers for adults-especially in the kitchen. Letting a child help prepare a meal may create enough excitement for them to want to try it. Choose simple, age appropriate tasks. A toddler can help set the table with place mats, plates, napkins, plastic cups, forks, and even placing condiments like salad dressing, ketchup, etc. Children four to six years old will love helping you wash and cut vegetables. Consider buying some utensils for your little one to help, like a child safe knife.
4. Hide foods your kid won’t eat.
If your child or baby is refusing a particular food, try slipping it into a food they DO like. Purees and tot pops are great for this! Picky eaters may miss out on vitamins if they are refusing too many vegetables. Try pureeing the offending vegetable and slipping it into a sauce or check out a cookbook with recipes like Deceptively Delicious and The Sneaky Chef. Often times, a child will start to warm up to a food if they’ve been tasting the flavor of it in other dishes.
5. Skip snacks.
It may sound harsh but the truth is that hungry kids are more likely to eat. A child may not eat well if there have been too many snacks during the day. One way to tell is if they eat well for breakfast, but don’t seem hungry at dinner. Making sure your child is hungry at dinner may mean cutting back on snacks during the day or eliminating them altogether. Just be aware this might mean you skip snacks too, as they will probably want to eat your snack if they see it! See more tips to stop over-snacking.
6. Talk to your pediatrician.
Some children that avoid foods may have sensory or medical problems. A heightened sense of smell, gastric problems, or even extreme fears may cause a child to dislike food. Consult with a doctor if your child is eating very little or becoming malnourished to rule out medical issues. Sensory therapy can be helpful to a child avoiding foods because of taste, texture, or appearance.
7. Explore food together.
Take your child with you when you go to the grocery store. Pick out something you normally wouldn’t buy and agree to try it together. Star fruit would be a good example of this; it’s sweet, healthy, and kids will love it’s star shape when sliced. You could also take a trip to a store that serves samples to try several different foods together. Often, farms and orchards will sell products and foods made with their produce. An apple orchard may let you pick your own apples and may sell apple butter, jelly, cider, cider donuts, and apple slushies. By visiting during the in-season, you may be able to discover something new.
8. Serve one food the child likes at every meal.
As children grow, they may begin to favor particular foods and flavors much like adults that have a favorite meal or favorite dessert. But by the time a child reaches toddler age, they should be able to eat mostly the same meals as adults. Offering one favorite food on a plate of not-favorite foods may help reduce mealtime stress.
9. Offer “fun” food.
Toddlers and young kids may be more apt to eat food that is made to look fun and interesting. Cut food into shapes using cookie cutters, use a pasta that comes in different colors or shapes, or arrange the food to look like something silly. If your child likes a particular character, try serving their food on a special plate with the character on it to get them more engaged in the meal.