If you feel like you’re fighting a losing battle at mealtimes, we have some suggestions to help win your kids over.
Was your child once receptive to all food offered, but now vehemently refuses to eat anything but plain toast? Are whines and complaints part of your dinner table conversation? There’s no need for you to fret. In most cases, picky eating is a part of normal childhood development. As children become more independent from their parents and caregivers and begin to explore the world, they want to have a say in everything, including what they eat. Let’s understand this phenomenon before we deal with how to combat it.
Read more: Annabel Karmel’s Essential Guide To Weaning
What causes food pickiness?
While picky eating is a normal development stage, other factors that contribute to it could be related to the food itself:
- Taste: Children generally do not like bitter foods, which many vegetables (such as spinach and broccoli) have.
- Smell: Some children are sensitive to strong smells and hence they refuse certain foods. Onion and garlic can put off some kids (and adults!).
- Texture: Even when they don’t dislike the flavour, some children are more sensitive than others to a food’s texture. This is an essential element because it determines how easy or challenging it is to eat certain preparations. For instance, young children love to eat bread, rice, noodles and pasta because they are soft and easy to chew foods.
- The fear of the unknown: Some children who are not exposed to a variety of foods may refuse to eat unfamiliar things when they are presented with them.
Solutions to overcome picky eating
There are a number of things you can do to help your little one develop a more positive attitude to food.
How and when to offer food
- Gradually offer a new food item to your children at meals and snack-times along with familiar and liked dishes.
- Switch the cooking method of familiar foods. For example, instead of offering hard-boiled eggs for breakfast every day, try introducing scrambled or poached eggs every other day. This helps them try different textures and prevents food fatigue.
Learn and explore together
Fun activities with kids are not limited to playgrounds and amusement parks. You can also:
- Plant herbs, small fruits and vegetables. If you have the space, go ahead and grow a whole vegetable garden.
- Visit wet markets. Make a game of spotting and naming vegetables, fruits and fish.
- Shop for groceries. Let your little one pay for what you buy and collect and count the change.
Let them pick the vegetable that they would like to have for dinner or the type of beans they want in a hearty soup when you go shopping. It feeds their interest in what they eat and by giving your children the freedom to pick something healthy, you are indirectly letting them know that you keep an open mind and will listen to their ideas.
Fun activities in the kitchen
Contrary to the belief that the kitchen is dangerous, this is the ideal stage to get children interested in food. In fact, children are more inclined to eat the foods they chose, prepared and cooked. You can assign them to age-appropriate, kitchen-related activities:
- 18 months to 3 years old: wash vegetables and fruits.
- 3 to 5 years old: tear greens, pour from a measuring cup.
- 5 to 7 years old: stir ingredients together (pancake mixes and sauces), set up the dining table.
- 8 to 11 years old: peel vegetables, follow a simple recipe to make pancakes and omelettes.
- 12 years and older: cut vegetables; boil pasta; make a salad, and more.
Don’t give up!
Despite your best efforts, keep in mind that picky eating does not go away overnight. Be patient with your children, as you want them to develop a positive attitude towards food and carry this on to adulthood.
If your kids absolutely refuse to try something different, encourage small steps by praising them for touching, smelling or licking the food. At some point, they will take a bite. Depending on temperament, it may take up to 10 to 15 times before children will fully accept a new food. Keep at it and offer it again at another time of the week.
What to do if picky eating persists
As parents and caregivers, we have to remind ourselves that we all have our preferences. There will always be foods that we love and some that we simply do not want to eat.
As long as your child doesn’t refuse all foods from a group, turning down one or two is not alarming. For example, if spinach is a strict no, but other leafy greens go down well, it shouldn’t be a huge concern.
To reduce fussiness about food, keep a food log to determine the times when meals and snacks are given, and how much is offered. If your children are drinking too much milk or eating too much junk food before dinner, that could explain the subsequent lack of appetite. If this is the case, make adjustments to encourage eating at mealtimes.
When to seek professional help
Remember, picky eating is generally a phase, and most children will overcome it. However, if you notice that your child is consistently refusing to eat one or more food groups, has gained or lost significant weight, or is showing signs of difficulty chewing and swallowing; you may need to get advice from your family doctor or a registered dietitian. It is simple enough to have your children assessed for nutritional concerns and often easy to correct with professional help. Win over your picky eaters and you could help them develop a happy and healthy relationship with food for life.