Nutrition

Dos and Don'ts for Picky Eaters

Picture of a child angrily holding broccoli on the tip of his fork

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How to Deal with a Picky Eater

Picky eaters can be a challenge for even the most experienced parents. Kid’s menus for every family dinner and bartering carrots for cookies may seem like the only route, but that doesn’t have to be the case. Choosy children are totally normal.

Kids have more taste buds than adults, meaning each bite has more flavor, texture and temperature. Their taste buds are also inclined to favor sweet over bitter. Finicky food habits are a normal part of early development and many children are picky eaters throughout childhood. While such a verdict may seem interminable, you don’t have to let it strain family meals.

Here are the key dos and don’ts for feeding a picky eater:

Dos

  • Repeat: Children can be slow and stubborn to accept new foods. Try offering the same new item multiple times and cooked different ways.
  • Involve: Bring your child grocery shopping and encourage them to participate in picking items and cooking and serving at meals to build their interest in food. Make sure you’re offering one thing they will eat and consider letting them help make the menu.
  • Food Chain: Alter preferred food slightly to subtly expand your kid’s palate with variations on their favorite theme. This is a useful way to expand your child’s range through similar textures and tastes while avoiding tricking your child into eating a new food.
  • Flavor Mask: The peanut-butter-on-celery strategy is a classic of the form, and flavor masking – usually using a favorite spread – is tradition in feeding picky eaters. Again, you don’t want to deceive your child, but rather increase their comfort through a positive taste association.
  • Empower: As much as possible, let your child set their own plate and feed themselves to help your kid feel in control and autonomous. To this end, you may want to serve finger foods, but only if your kid feels comfortable picking up food on their own.
  • Stay Positive: Keep meals peaceful by establishing mealtime structure such as sitting through the entire the meal and a certain degree of manners.

Don'ts

  • Cater: Include something the picky eater will like, but don’t offer an entire alternative.
  • Reward: Be wary of setting up a barter system where dessert or favorite foods become incentive to eat the other stuff. It will only increase the appeal of the reward rather than expand their tastes.
  • Force Food: Respect your child’s changing appetite, trying to ensure they eat can lead to unproductive habits like cooking special meals or bartering and bribing.

A picky eater can seem like a stressful addition to a family dinner. Follow the dos and don’ts to involve and empower your child, while avoiding a power struggle over plates.

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