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Converting a Picky Eater

Many parents say it is because they have a “Picky Eater” and these are the only foods the child will eat.

What most parents don’t realize is that all toddlers are picky eaters. And it’s perfectly normal, even expected developmental behaviour. It may surprise you to find out that this behaviour has very little to do with the taste of food and is mostly about wanting control of a situation. Most toddlers learn very early that eating is very easy to control and it is likely to get a response out of you. This makes it fun (for your kid, not you)!

The big challenge for parents is NOT to give into this behaviour, and DON’T fall into the trap of offering bland, unhealthy foods as a replacement for flavourful, healthy foods. This can be a difficult time. Here is our advice:

Start early

Children form habits that make them picky eaters. Habits are hard to break. You are better off if you can prevent the habits from forming. At the very first signs of finicky behaviour, explain to your child that it is not healthy to eat the same foods all the time. Serve a good variety of foods at meals, and encourage your young ones to taste new foods. New food choices can be described as “special treats.”

Include them

Children are more likely to eat something that they have helped make, so get your children involved in preparing meals. You can also take them shopping and teach them how to find and select foods. Involving your kids in making decisions reinforces that you care about their opinion and want to make things that they like. Never ask “Do you want broccoli for dinner?” offer choices like “Do you want broccoli or cauliflower for dinner?” Simple choices make your child feel like they are the ones in control.

Set goals

Be realistic about setting goals. It is not realistic to try to force your child to eat a whole serving of food that they claim not to like. Instead start off with small expectations, like one bite of the new food, and work your way up from there.

Be consistent, firm, and don’t give up

Use the same tactics at each and every meal. Put new foods on your child’s plate first. Remind your child of the goal and offer plenty of encouragement. Don’t give in to stubbornness. It may also work to try “Look Mommy (or Daddy) will try a bite with you.”

Don’t rush meals

It is quite likely that your child is a slow eater, and this is a good habit to encourage. Offer your child plenty of time to eat a meal.

Praise

Even if it is just one nibble, congratulate your child. For a picky eater – this little nibble is a big deal. Ask them if they thought it was tasty. If the say “no,” tell them it may take a few bites to notice the delicious flavour or suggest maybe it would taste better with ketchup on it. The point being, don’t let them shutdown the thought that this food may actually taste good someday.

Be a good role model

It is plain and simple. You cannot expect to raise children that eat a good variety of healthy foods if you do not. This fact goes for all adults who sit at the table with your children. Your toddler learns from watching and mimicking you. You may have to venture out of your own comfort zone of eating and try new foods yourself. Remember, you are being watched.

Above all, don’t scold your child or get mad if they don’t eat new things right away. Some kids just need a little more time to try new foods. Eating should be a pleasurable experience.