Picky eaters might be one of the most frustrating parts of parenthood… at least in my book. Kids can be fickle even when they are eating foods they loved the day before; but, with some kids, trying new foods might just seem impossible. Preventing fights and tension during mealtime can be tricky when all your child wants to eat is plain noodles (although mine won’t even touch those so be grateful for those noodle eaters out there). So what causes picky eating and what can you do about it? Let’s talk.
Picky eating is completely normal in toddlers (typically ages 1-3) for a variety of reasons. During that stage they are learning independence and what better way to assert their newfound independence than to refuse the peas you are trying to offer? Their rapid growth also slows down during this phase. After the first year your kids will sprout up more in spurts leading to decreased appetites and decreased interest in food. You may notice when they are hitting a spurt because they’ll want more food.
Toddlers are also busy busy busy! My G can’t sit still for more than 10 seconds and we pretty much have a wrestling match trying to get him into his booster seat (which we switched to from the high chair he was trying to climb all over), let alone trying to get food in his mouth. Not only are toddlers busy, but they are hesitant to try new things. Think about that friendly neighbor who always wants to hold your child but usually just gets screaming in return. Now substitute spaghetti squash in for the friendly neighbor. See where I’m going with this? It takes time for kids to get used to food just like it takes time for them to get used to people. The more pressure they feel, the more they resist. That is why it is important to introduce foods gradually, provide plenty of exposure and not put on too much pressure. Just like the friendly neighbor, eventually they’ll grow used to the spaghetti squash and probably learn to love it (especially if it starts giving them candy like the neighbors…or string cheese like our nice neighbors).
Picky eating can also go beyond the toddler phase. Kids may be averse to certain textures, tastes, colors, or smells for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons we can pinpoint like Autism Spectrum Disorders, but sometimes we can’t (like my nephew who survives on peanut butter). Whatever the reason, it’s important to go slow and try to stay calm. Below are my steps for introducing new foods to picky eaters. They may seem ridiculously slow and for some sprouts you might be able to skip a step or two, but for the pickiest of pickies, here’s what I recommend.
- Put the new food on the table. So maybe you’re thinking I’m crazy, but I have had clients who don’t even want to see the food on the table…not even in their peripherals! So step #1, make sure your child is calm and comfortable with the new food on the table.
- Place the new food next to their plate on the table. Just move it a little bit closer to them so they can adjust to seeing and smelling it.
- Place the food on their plate. It doesn’t have to touch their food and they don’t have to touch it, but they do have to leave the food on the plate for the duration of the meal.
- Make them touch it. This may be a hard step, but before they get used to the feel of the food in their mouth, it helps to get the feel of the food in their hands.
- Put the food in their mouth. This is a big one. They don’t have to chew or swallow but they do have to be willing to put it in the mouth and hopefully get a little taste and feel for the texture.
- Chew the food. At this point they can still spit it out (read: still assert some independence), but at least they are chewing and tasting and feeling and hopefully starting to enjoy the food.
- Swallow the food. Yup, eventually they do have to actually swallow the food. Once you’ve reached this it will hopefully be smooth sailing! May take a few tries but they’ll catch on
- Love the food! Everyone’s end goal right?!
Keep in mind this is a gradual process. You
may probably will have to do each step more than once and sometimes you may have to start over or go back a step. Don’t get frustrated (or at least don’t let your frustration show). Also, be sure to not overwhelm your sprout with tons of new foods at once. Start with one. If that goes well, add in another new food, MAYBE 2. But keep it slow and simple. Hopefully these steps will help with those cute little particular eaters in your homes. Your patience will be rewarded!