“We tend to think of young children as picky eaters because by nature they are suspicious of new foods, and at this age they start exerting their independence in the form of saying ‘no!’” says Olivia Munger, a Registered Dietitian with the Children’s Health℠ Get Up and Go program .
It can take some time for children to accept a new food. If you remove new foods too quickly it can send the message that it’s okay to reject whatever you prepare. Allowing children to choose what they eat and to try different foods in a pleasant, pressure-free zone is essential to raising healthy eaters.
Four tips for introducing new foods to picky eaters:
- When you want to introduce a new food, make sure to serve it with a familiar one.
- Practice patience, as it can take up to 12 exposures for children to accept and enjoy a new food.
- Encourage children to try one bite, and if they don’t like it to politely say so.
- Don’t pressure children to finish any food or their entire meal, as this teaches them to ignore their hunger and fullness instincts.
- If the child decides not to eat, make sure they understand the kitchen is closed.
Build a better eater through deconstruction
A deconstructed meal is a similar idea where you set portions of the ingredients aside before mixing them together to prepare the dish. Try making meals that each family member can tailor to their tastes or can be deconstructed into their separate parts like tacos, stir fry or soups.
Tacos can easily be adapted to the preferences of each eater:
- If one child doesn’t like meat, they can select lettuce, cheese and tomatoes and crumble up the taco shell to make a salad.
- The child that loathes vegetables can just have the taco shell, meat and cheese.
Stir fries are also meals you can easily deconstruct with a wide-array of ingredients:
- If you have a child who doesn’t like their food mixed together, you can set aside some chicken, rice and raw veggies before you mix it together in the sauce for the rest of the family.
- Allow the child to choose their own ingredients that you’ve provided and stir fry separate.
Other deconstructed build-your-own meals might include:
- Burrito bowls, quesadillas, pizzas, omelets, salads and pastas.
The main idea behind these meals is to take your child’s preferences into consideration without allowing them to run the show. It’s important to let them know you listen but communicate that they are expected to choose foods from the options you provide.
Help put the joy back into eating
Ellyn Satter, an internationally recognized authority on eating and feeding shares her 50 years of wisdom in helping adults be more positive, nurturing in caring for themselves and their children. Her website offers a wealth of resources, information and tips to help parents and children eat in harmony.
Remember, every child is different
Even if you follow all these suggestions there still may be some tough mealtimes ahead as children learn which tastes and textures they like or dislike. Adapt the guidelines that work best for your child and your family. Raising a child who eats a wide variety of food takes time, patience and repeated exposure.
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