Picky eating is a common complaint of parents and toddlers. Although there is no scientific definition to clinically define picky eating, many parents characterize picky eating as:
- A child who limits the number of foods accepted
- A child who refuses to try new foods
- A child who avoids certain foods and/or food groups
- A child who displays strong food preferences for food presentation and preparation.
Picky eating is a natural response for children and is to be expected. A picky eater is usually not associated with major changes in nutrient intake and rates of growth. Children know how to eat and grow. We need to trust them to do their job with eating.
What is Normal Eating?
- Enjoying a food or meal one day but not the next
- Eating very little or a lot during a meal or day
- Tasting a food but not eating
- Being exposed to a food several times without tasting
You cannot make your child eat if they do not want to. You can, however support your child as they learn to enjoy a variety of foods. Here are some helpful hints for teaching and supporting Normal Eating:
- Maintain Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in feeding. Adults provide the what, when and where of feeding; children provide the how much and whether of eating.
- Offer new and previously refused foods and let your child approach them cautiously. Encourage your child to find something they enjoy from the meal offered but do not force them to eat. Forcing a child to accept and eat a new food often results in more resistance. Repeated exposure to a particular food is important. Studies consistently suggest that up to 10-15 exposures may be necessary before a specific food is accepted.
- Don’t short-order cook. Encourage family meals and prepare foods that your family enjoys. Pair liked and familiar foods with unfamiliar and less-liked foods. Allow your child to determine when he/she has had enough to eat. Be realistic about the variable amounts that children eat.
- Create a feeding environment that is calm and pleasant. Sit down and eat with your child. Turn off the TV and engage him/her in conversation.
- Maintain structured meals and snacks. Young children should be offered a meal or snack every 2-4 hours. Limit between-meal and snack-time food and beverages except for water. Structured meals and snacks will allow a child to arrive at a meal or snack ready to eat.
- Encourage food exploration. Children learn through touching, smelling, seeing and even playing with their food. Occasionally, plan creative and fun meals and snacks. Use food as a decoration, make fun shapes using cookie cutters and name your food using fun names. For many children, food exploration allows a child to determine if a food is safe to taste and eventually eat.
- Allow your child to participate in the preparation of meals and snacks. Children enjoying helping and eat better if they feel involved in the process.
Is your child a picky eater? How do you encourage your child to try new foods?