Do you have a picky eater?
There are 4 common reasons behind children being fussy eaters. Work through them with these strategies.
We have all seen that Instagram post of a friend’s kid eating a healthy snack. And we have seen the Pinterest recipes for healthy meals that claim: “Your kids are going to love it!”
But for some of us with picky eaters, these posts seem flat-out unrealistic. Why? Because “no amount of cheese sauce is going to get my kid to eat broccoli.” Right?
There are actually things we can do, though, to help diversify our picky eaters’ palates! What will work, however, depends on why your child is fussy. Getting kids to try and eat new foods is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Some approaches work better for different children, even within your own family.
4 common reasons for picky eating and what to do
Your child is trying to be independent.
Does it seem like your child just has to do the opposite of everything you ask? Their eating habits might be falling under this same challenge.
Strategy to try: Involving them in the decisions.
Get your child excited for their next meal by letting them help with the menu and meal preparation. It’s still your job as the parent to guide and show how different foods and ingredients can be worked into meals. But let your child help you mix ingredients, bring food to the table and taste test with you. You can also bring them grocery shopping and let them pick out items. This strategy makes it so that your child wants to try and eat their own culinary creations.
Your child isn’t hungry.
It seems simple, but they might just be listening to their body. And what and when they eat can change as their body grows.
Strategy to try: Working with your child’s schedule, not against it.
Plan your child’s meals around when they are hungry. And make sure to avoid all-day snacking so that they are hungry at mealtime. When your child sits down for a meal, offer better options like veggies first. This will help prevent them from filling up on less nutritious items that might be their favorites. You can still offer a favorite food, but design meals so that it appears on your child’s plate last. It’s also important to remember that even if your child doesn’t finish the whole mound of peas on their plate, taking a few bites can still fulfill what their body needs.
Your child thinks the food is boring.
Kids are visual. So if the food looks drab, they are less likely to try it. It’s similar to going to a restaurant. Doesn’t the food seem to taste better when it has a nice presentation?
Strategy to try: Making it exciting!
You don’t have to carve your child’s favorite cartoon into in an apple, but make food fun! Using colors, cookie cutters, food on sticks and silly names can all make it more appealing. Our family loves chowing down on mashed potato volcanos with mushroom gravy lava. And one of our favorite tasty treats is “wacky watermelon.” Make sure to always present a variety of foods and change things up to challenge those taste buds!
The food doesn’t actually taste good to your child.
When we are young, we have a lot more taste buds. And these naturally crave sweet things. (In fact, the very first food that many of us eat, breastmilk, is really sweet.) Sweet flavors are more instinctually good. And bitter flavors are instinctually toxic. But as we age, we lose some taste buds and discover we like foods we used to hate.
Strategy to try: Being understanding, but encouraging.
Keep giving your child opportunities to try a particular food. It can take upwards of 15 times of trying something to like it. Try cooking foods in different ways and working in natural sweeteners. This could be as simple as roasting veggies to eliminate some of the bitterness, or adding cranberries to green beans.
These options should give you a good start to finding a solution for your picky eater. You can find even more tips, tricks and better-for you recipes on our organization’s yumPower and PowerUp websites.
Be advised that some instances of picky eating can actually be signs of problem feeding or other underlying medical conditions. Always work with your child’s doctor to find the right solution for your family.
To find a child-friendly doctor, visit our Kids’ Health page.
About Heather Hawkinson, MA, OTR/L
Heather Hawkinson is an occupational therapist at Park Nicollet Rehabilitation Services Center in Maple Grove. She primarily works with kids and adolescents and enjoys helping them gain independence through therapy. Her specific areas of interest include sensory integration, autism spectrum disorders and childhood development. Heather is dedicated to providing compassionate care and uses a collaborative approach with her clients, their families and other healthcare professionals. Outside of work, she likes to travel (mostly to warm places) and spend time with her family (especially at their cabin).