I’m always looking for advice when it comes to feeding my kids! I have a special guest post today from Jenny at Mom Loves Best.
Most children go through periods of picky eating – it’s a normal part of development, especially during the toddler years. But it’s hard not to get discouraged when your child who used to eat everything suddenly won’t eat anything other than bread, or when you see other children gobble up a much wider variety of foods than yours. Thankfully, there are some simple things you can do to help expand your child’s palate. Here are a few to try!
1. Stop making assumptions.
I do this subconsciously – and I bet you do, too. I choose not to cook certain foods because I assume my kids won’t like it. I make an alternate meal for the kids because I think our main dish might be “too spicy.” My child rejected salad with dressing once, so I never offered to it again. As moms, we make decisions about what to feed our family and inadvertently limit their choices by making assumptions about what they will or won’t eat. Instead, serve foods – even ones you’re sure your child is going to reject – over and over and over. Continued exposure helps normalize the food and will increase their chances of eating it. Often it takes many exposures for a child to accept a food.
2. Let them feed themselves.
We tend to keep young children on purees for a long time, and then unintentionally continue our habit of feeding our kids well past the point when they’re capable of doing it themselves. This eliminates their ability to choose, and a choice is the overarching theme of toddlerhood. Buy your toddler their own fun, special spoons and dishes put a wide variety of foods on their plate, and leave the rest up to them. It will get messy (so don’t forget a bib) – but that’s how children learn best!
3. Limit snacks.
No country feeds their children as frequently as ours. We have been convinced that children need regular snacks throughout the day, but what ends up happening is that kids never sit down to a meal with a real appetite. There are certainly periods of development (primarily the very early years) when kids’ bellies are not large enough to fill with 4-5 hours worth of food, but once children reach age 3-4, snacks aren’t really a nutritional necessity. As mothers, we need to recognize that it’s easy to placate a whiny preschooler with a snack, but it’s also affecting their need to satiate themselves at the dinner table. A child who’s not actually hungry will be less inclined to eat a full meal – and try new foods – at meal times.
4. Make mealtimes a regular group activity.
Help your child understand that there are certain structured times to eat by instituting group meal times. While full-fledged family meals may not be possible in your home, make sure at least a few members of your family are sitting down and eating at the same time in the same place. This teaches children that mealtimes are set aside for the purpose of eating, and eliminates the habit of grazing through meals.
5. Include your child in the meal preparation process.
Let your child pick out foods at the grocery store they’d like to try. Have them help you prepare the meal. Get excited about their efforts and show them your enthusiasm. Children who have a hand in meal preparation are more likely to try new foods. Conversely, don’t dissuade your child from their request to try new things based on your assumptions (see #1). I’m ashamed to admit that, on more than one occasion, when my kids have requested something at the grocery store I’ve responded with, “No, you won’t like that.” Embrace their willingness for a culinary adventure in the moment instead of tempering their enthusiasm!
6. Eliminate the battle.
As with everything you’re trying to instill in small children when it becomes more about the battle you end up losing the war. Don’t insist on your child eating everything. When food isn’t a battle of wills, they are more inclined to try new things. A great rule of thumb is that parents decide what to serve and when to serve it, and children choose whether to eat and how much they will consume (as outlined by the Ellyn Satter Institute).
While walking your child down the path to a balanced diet can feel rocky, it’s important to remember that children will not starve themselves. It feels uncomfortable to turn the tides and structure children’s eating, but if you give them repeated opportunities to try new things – and make sure they’re hungry when they come to the table – they’ll start to surprise you. Expanding a child’s picky palate is possible; you’ve just got to overcome some of the convenient practices that get in their way.
Jenny is just another mom trying to do her best. She loves making lists and helping others find what they are looking for. When she’s not using her powers to help her kids find their missing socks, she enjoys sharing the struggles and triumphs of feeding her kids on her blog and on Pinterest.