YUCKIE! I’m not eating that! Are these familiar words at your dinner table? Does your child hide their food or try to feed it to the family pet? If so, you are not alone. This is happening in many homes and is actually quite normal in the developmental process. Because of these behaviors though, many parents worry that their children are not meeting their daily nutritional needs when they refuse to eat certain foods or refuse to eat at all.
When a child refuses to eat certain foods it may be because they are not familiar with the food. As with all new things in life, they are programmed to be cautious. Even with new foods. In fact it could take as many as 20 different attempts for a child to accept a new food. One way for your child to gain familiarity with a new food is to have the food in plain view around the house, whether it is fruit in a bowl on the counter, a basket of fresh vegetables on the table, or better yet, fresh fruits and vegetables picked from your own garden. Once a child becomes more familiar with a food they are more willing to try it.
Texture might also play a role in refusing to eat certain foods. This is important because the texture of food may determine how hard or easy a food is to eat. (The other day my 3 year old stuck too much “chewy meat” in his mouth all at once and ended up spitting it out because it was too hard to chew. Note to self: cut it into smaller pieces next time). But again just because your child does not like the texture of a new food the first time, do not give up hope!
Sometimes though there will be foods that your child will just flat out refuse to eat, no matter how hard you try. For example they may not like cauliflower. Not to worry though. As long as they are not rejecting all vegetables, not eating cauliflower is fine. If they like 10 other types of vegetables focus on those 10 and forget about the cauliflower.
The following are some tips that will keep your picky eater from becoming pickier:
- DO NOT make your child a separate dinner. When your child realizes that you are willing to make them their own meal, they will never want to try new foods. Whatever the grown-ups are eating, the kids should be eating.
- Sit down at mealtime and make it family time. Foods that are eaten on the go tend to be less healthy and include less fruits and vegetables. Let your children see you eating fruits and vegetables. By sitting down as a family for meals, your child can see you eating the foods that you want them to eat. Remember you have to model the behavior.
- Don’t hover over your kids while they are eating. The bigger the deal you make of their eating behaviors, the more you will be met with resistance.
- Don’t let your child graze all day long on snacks. Plan out snack time and have a beginning and end to it. When dinner comes around, if they are full from all the snacks they have been eating, they are not going to want to try new foods.
- Get your child involved. Have them go grocery shopping with you or accompany you to the famers market where they can help you pick out fresh fruits and vegetables. Plant a garden. Your child will love being able to pick fresh food from their own garden that they grew. (There are lots of cool weather vegetables that can be grown during the fall and winter months.)
- Lastly, hang in there! Your picky eater will not starve themselves and if you as a parent do not back down and keep introducing those new foods, your picker eater will come around.
Katie Valdes MS, RD, CSSD