10 Top Tips to Encourage Picky Eaters
Having fussy children is pretty common and can be especially prevalent around those tricky ages between three and five years old. For most children, fussy eating is a phase as they’re developing and they will generally grow out of it.
It’s normal for parents to worry about their child getting enough nutrients, so providing there isn’t an underlying issue like a complete loss of appetite, try these ten tips to encourage your fussy eaters.
1. Help Your Child Feel Included
Some children simply have no interest in food, so they don’t have any enthusiasm to try new things. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to get your child enthused about food without being sat at the table.
Asking your child to help you write a shopping list can help establish which food they want more of, and giving them some element of control can help it feel like a team effort. Where possible, include children in food prep too. Whether it’s buttering toast, decorating cakes, or chopping up veg (with a safety knife, of course!), inviting them into the kitchen to be a part of the process can encourage a more well-rounded approach to mealtimes.
2. Expose Them to a Wide Variety of Foods
Experimenting with food is just like any other kind of learning; it pays to make it fun. Learning about new foods can help generate excitement, so why not try making a game out of it? Challenge your little ones to name fruits and vegetables for every letter of the alphabet, and teach them about new ones.
Even better, show them in the supermarket or offer to buy a new food of their choice for you to try together. If your child is reluctant to try new foods, consider a dish from their favorite movie that you could replicate!
3. Experiment with Texture
As your child is developing, eating can become an overwhelming sensory experience. Some children will prefer certain textures in food, so establishing what they do and don’t like can help ease frustration. Instead of taste, consider if your child is resisting a food because of how it feels in their mouth.
To help them understand the texture of foods, why not play games with them using their senses. Take a cracker, and ask them to describe its sound, smell, and texture. This can help you get to know your child’s preferences and work around them.
4. Don’t Use Food as a Bribe
When disciplining your child, it can be tempting to use food as a negotiation tool. However, bribing a child with snacks can result in a complicated relationship with food further down the line.
By all means enjoy treats with your child, but try not to use food as a punishment or reward because this can send the wrong message about food’s purpose.
5. Eat Together as a Family
Where possible, include your child in your own mealtimes. This really is about leading by example, and seeing their parents or siblings eat can encourage more willingness in your child.
Sitting around the table at mealtimes can also make your child feel grown-up and involved. Having an enjoyable mealtime for everyone sets a standard for positive interactions around food.
6. Give Them Their Own Special Tools
Being equipped with their own special tableware can make for a much more exciting mealtime. There are lots of fun-shaped plates and colorful cutlery that will add more enjoyment to eating!
Some children are particularly fussy about the separate elements of their meal touching one another, so consider if this is something that bothers your little one. You can preempt this by providing tableware with different compartments like these apple plates. This can help to combat any complaints about mixing of the components that you know individually they will eat.
7. Keep Healthy Snacks Handy
It’s only natural that parents of fussy eaters often worry about whether or not their child is eating enough. Some children don’t do well with the formality of mealtimes, so it’s worth keeping some healthy snacks handy to get some nutrients into them when the mood does strike.
8. Keep It Positive and Fun
It can be draining as a parent of picky children, but remember to try and keep a positive attitude in front of your child. Reinforce positive steps and progress with praise, and try not to show any frustration.
Mealtimes can be lots of fun, so making this an all-round positive experience will give your child positive associations with eating. Play games after mealtimes, make up songs about cooking, you can even create a menu together!
9. Avoid Distractions
Try to avoid distractions at mealtimes so as not to interrupt any progress your child is making. You should also lead by example here, making time for a meal without interference from distractions like cell phones.
When your child is applied, they will be able to assess their own experiences better, and distractions can get in the way of cues like hunger and fullness.
10. Journal Your Results
Like many parts of parenting, encouraging a fussy eater is about trial and error. Keeping a note of your efforts and results can help you stay on track and see the progress you’re making with your child.
Make sure that your journaling doesn’t just record what your child has eaten but also anything you did differently that day that may have affected the results. Consider conversations around food, color and textures, times of day, and any other outward factors. This will help you identify potential triggers and help you focus on what your child responds best to.
Remember that you’re not alone in this! Talking to other parents will help reassure you that lots of children are fussy eaters, and they may even have some extra top tips that can help you with your own picky child.