By Rae Steinbach
Picky eating is a common phase that many toddlers and young children experience, and it can be difficult for parents to determine the line between picky eating and problem feeding. It’s normal for kids to take time to acclimate to the large number of new foods they’re being exposed to.
If you’ve noticed that your child is only interested in certain foods, you can take a more active role in shaping their eating habits and helping them broaden their horizons. These are a few of the most effective ways to help them move beyond their picky eating phase.
Some parents assume the best way to help their children grow more comfortable with a variety of healthy kids meals is to incentivize trying new things or to make them eat a certain amount of a given food. Although you’re trying to encourage healthy eating habits, this approach can have important unintended consequences.
Getting into conflicts over food with your child can lead to a range of anxieties, including concerns over eating habits and body image. Instead, try to create a safe and supportive environment where your child feels free to develop their tastes at their own pace.
It’s easy to get discouraged if your child isn’t interested in a new food the first time they see it, but this doesn’t mean that they won’t open up to it later on. In fact, young children may need to be exposed to a food up to 15 times before they grow comfortable enough to try it.
To encourage your child to eat healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, try to limit snacking between meals so that they’ll be hungry for dinner. Keep giving them the option to try the new food even if they’ve already refused it a number of times in the past.
Model Healthy Behaviors
We all know that children take after their parents, and this may be especially true when it comes to food. Acting as a role model of healthy eating habits for your children will show them that you take your own advice seriously and make them more likely to follow it themselves.
Similarly, having a positive approach to trying new things will resonate with your children and help them build positive associations with new foods. Eating healthy, filling snacks and keeping them on-hand for your kids will also encourage them to follow your lead.
Keep Your Children Involved
Depending on your child’s age and temperament, they may be interested in helping out with meal prep or cooking. Start by letting them make their own decisions about certain foods—picking a vegetable to cook for dinner, for example—to give them more control over what they eat.
You can also allow your child to assist you in cooking through counting, stirring, or another simple task. The more involved they feel in their own eating decisions, the more comfortable they’ll grow with foods they haven’t seen before.
While some eating patterns are signs of a more serious problem that may require medical attention, most cases of picky eating are nothing more than a phase. With a little time and these surprisingly effective tips, your child will have no trouble growing accustomed to a variety of new foods.
Rae Steinbach is a graduate of Tufts University with a combined International Relations and Chinese degree. After spending time living and working abroad in China, she returned to NYC to pursue her career and continue curating quality content. Rae is passionate about travel, food, and writing about kids health, of course.