Ways to Help Kids Overcome Picky Eating Habits
Picky eating can be frustrating, especially when you put in a lot of thought and love in preparing a meal for your kids and then they reject it outrightly in a jiffy. It can be both heartbreaking and worrisome for parents. Most parents get anxious about their kids’ lack of nutrition and potential developmental delays, as a result of poor eating habits.
But, it’s time to bid adieu to your anxiety. We have listed down a few ways that you can use to turn the tables in your favour and overcome the picky eating habits of your kids. This may need a shift in your ways of doing things but the result may be worth the effort.
1. Have At Least One Meal Together - It is no surprise that in the current times, both the parents are usually working full time. Basis this limitation, it is understandable that having breakfast and lunch together every day may not be practical. But, try to find time to be with the entire family at the dining table for dinner. Research shows a positive correlation between regular family dinners and increased vocabulary, improved school performance and higher consumption of fruits/vegetables by children.
2. Remember That You are Your Child’s Hero - Use the dinner time to model the behaviour of eating healthy. Since kids watch and observe the grown-ups eagerly, the best way we can have them eat and try all kinds of foods is when we genuinely enjoy different kinds of healthy foods ourselves.
3. Allow Kids to Have a Some Voice in Meal Planning - Do keep the control of what the family eats at night in your hands. Don’t let children dictate every day what they want to eat. It is important to prepare the same meal for every member of the family while prioritising adult needs. However, let the child slip in an occasional request in the dinner time to make them feel they are partially in-charge of the meal too.
4. Make Meal Time a Fun Activity - Based on your previous experiences, you may start “fearing” the meal times, thinking it might cascade into a messy affair again. But try to calm yourself before serving meals to your children. Stay composed and pleasant and take the meal time together as an opportunity to connect with one another as a family. You can ask each member to talk about how their day was and what new thing they learned. Here are some other fun ways you can take the heat off if you see signs of struggle with food:
• Let the child play with food, draw and scribble using the pieces or puree. Chances are the child will lick the puree off his/her fingers.
• Educate your child about where food is grown, how it is grown, and what nutritional benefit it provides to human bodies. For instance, mention egg has omega 3 which is needed for a smart brain, avocados are good for their skin, carrots have vitamin A needed for healthy eyes etc. Try to match food related benefits with what your kid likes. You could say something like “Eating spinach will make your hair grow nice and strong like Rapunzel”.
• Talk about what colours are on their plate. You can say things like just like a rainbow is not complete without 7 colours, our bodies are incomplete without all colours.
• Start the mealtime by saying a prayer together or sing a silly food song to make mealtime a fun activity.
• Add coloured dips to encourage vegetable consumption and show kids how you can try different kind of veggies and mask some flavours with their preferred dips.
5. Involve the Kids in Cooking Meals - We agree it sounds scary to involve the kids in cooking meals. No doubt, it might get messy and could double your workload but all the extra work could translate into your kids wanting to try new things that they’d have put together themselves. When kids cook with you, they would have already felt and tried the texture of the food item, so chances are they will be more readily accepting to put them in their mouth. As an example, you can ask them to add cut-up fruit into a bowl for fruit salad. Handling, smelling, and touching the food helps children get comfortable with the idea of eating it.
6. Let Repetition be Thy Mantra - Research shows that it can take upto 15 trials of a new food for a child to accept it. Most parents make the mistake of not offering the child a food that has been rejected by them 1-3 times. The key is to keep presenting the same food over and over again and be patient. It is interesting to note that even if the child doesn’t eat the food in the first few tries, he/she is getting familiar with its sight, texture, colour and smell. This sensory acquaintance will gradually increase his/her exposure to the specific food. Keep at it and you will be surprised to see your child take a bite.
7. Do Not Forget to Make the Food Visually Appealing - Kids are drawn to aesthetics, colours and presentations. You would have noticed sometimes making silly faces on pancakes or omelettes will make for a much more efficient feeding process. You may consider using cookie cutters to give their ‘non-preferred’ fruits and vegetables some fun shapes. Also make sure the temperature of the food is such that the child doesn’t have to wait to consume it.
8. Offer One Kind of Food at a Time - If there are too many choices, the kids can get overwhelmed and confused; this might lead to kids sticking to only ‘safe foods’.
9. Encourage Autonomy - Children, like adults, want to feel they are in control of their environment. So go ahead and allow them to feed themselves so they’re in control of what they put in their mouths. Let them explore the smells, textures, and tastes on their own. Offer help only if they need or ask for it. Also, let the kid decide which food goes where. The salad can go on left side of their tray and the mashed potato can stay on the right. Remember that you have to be a patient partner to your child on his/her food journey. If you have ruled out that picky eating is not because of an underlying medical issue, we would encourage you to keep at it and take each day as it comes. As kids grow up, they see their friends eating various kinds of food, and with peer encouragement, they become more open to try different foods. Do try to keep electronic gadgets away from them while they eat so they can really get familiar with different kinds of foods. Don’t offer them rewards for eating a new food, as this can turn into a damaging habit in the long run. Lastly, do not panic and fret as the kids easily catch on the anxiety and this pulls them even further back.
So just keep your creative hats on, experiment with the methods listed above and we promise you will get there soon. Perseverance is the key!
Written by Mridu Bhutani