Picky eaters can cause even the most patient parent to become impatient. To help, we’ve compiled 4 great tips on how to introduce new foods to picky eaters in a gentle and respectful way.
A theme that runs through all of these tips is to keep pressure away from eating times. Respectfully and repeatedly offering new or different foods to your children will create small positive changes in the right direction.
Remove the Pressure for picky eaters
No one likes to be pressured into something, especially a three-nanger. Pressuring children into eating certain foods or finishing their food usually has the opposite of the desired effect. Research shows children who are not pressured into eating or finishing their foods are more likely to eat more than children who are pressured.
Removing the pressure related to food is easier said than done. It means that you remove negative pressure and also praise related to eating. Try your best to take a neutral stance on food.
Serve your child a balanced meal, enjoy your own meal, and let your child explore eating, pressure-free.
Tip! If you want to discuss food without pressure try talking about what functions those foods do in our bodies as @kids.eat.in.colour does with her children.
Division of Responsibility
The Ellyn Satter Institute (ESI) suggests using the Division of Responsibility when feeding your children to remove stress from eating time. Once a child is relaxed at meal and snack times they will be more open to eating a wider variety of foods.
The Division of Responsibility is as simple as dividing responsibility of eating between the parent and child. The parent is responsible for what, when, and where the family eats. The child is responsible for whether and how much they eat.
This should look like parents offering balanced meals and snacks. At regular intervals – ESI suggests a schedule of 3 meals and 2-3 snacks with no eating in between those scheduled times. Toddlers should be offered food every 2 -3 hours and older kids every 3-4 hours. Parents are also responsible for choosing where to eat, whenever possible this should be together as a family at a table.
The child is responsible for choosing what on their plate they eat. And how much they want to eat. This could mean they eat nothing sometimes. And that is ok! Just give them a gentle reminder they won’t be offered food again until the next snack or meal.
When children are older, you can offer a meal family-style and they can be responsible for choosing what and how much they want of everything offered.
The Division of Responsibility works because the child is more likely to be hungry when offered new foods and without the stress of fighting to overeat they are more likely to be adventurous about eating.
Introduce New Foods with old Favourites
Whenever possible, try introducing new foods with foods that you know your child loves. This makes the new food a little less scary and puts less pressure on the child to eat it.
When deciding to try new foods, try to choose 2-3 things you know your child likes to every 1 new item or item you know they do not usually like.
Also, try introducing food to your child in a form that they like. For instance, for a child who loves fries try making carrot fries. Or for a nugget lover try making broccoli nuggets. This introduces foods they may be new or not their favourite in a way that feels familiar and fun.
If your little one enjoys purees, try introducing new flavours and ingredients combined in our purees to tempt the palette.
Exposure is the Key for Picky Eaters
Every exposure to foods makes them more normal to your child. The more normal a food is the less intimidated your child will be of the food.
Exposure can be:
- Having new foods offered at meal and snack time
- Children helping cook or grow the food
- Watching a parent enjoy the food
- Grocery shopping for food
Tip! Children who are exposed to a wide variety of foods from their parents are shown to be more willing to try new foods.
Even if your child hates peas, for example, continue to offer peas occasionally without pressure. Offer it in different ways, have your child see you eat them, have them help you in the kitchen when peas are involved, have them help you buy them when groceries shopping. Every interaction, even one that does not end up in your child eating peas, is an exposure.
Eventually, they’ll come around to many new foods by simply being exposed to them.