You are in charge of what food is offered and when. But your child gets to decide how much they want to eat.
In theory, introducing solid food to your baby should be pretty simple, right? I mean it's fairly easy to prepare one food at a time, offer for a few days in a row and gradually introduce new foods every few days. Everything is new and interesting, it might even seem easy for some parents – "my baby eats everything!" Maybe you've read about what to give them. Or asked a professional. Either way, you are convinced that you can satisfy every nutritional need.
But what if your child refuses to eat what you made? What if they start refusing food today that they seemed to love just yesterday? What if they only want one type of food that you told yourself you won't give them? How long will you hold out before giving in?
Whether your child is a picky eater from the start or became one long after solids were introduced you'll be glad to hear that there are ways to ensure your child eats a variety of foods which are healthy and nutritious.
This doesn't mean they'll never eat "junk" – what kind of childhood would that be! But it does mean you can reduce those low nutrient foods (a better way to describe them than "junk") and gradually increase the amount and type of the nutritious ones. The important thing to remember when dealing with a picky eater is that your child is absolutely normal and that a large proportion of children go through a "picky“ phase. The important thing is to remain calm and not fuss about it.
Please note: This post contains affiliate links
Strategies to Deal with Picky Eaters
First things first – try not to get frustrated. So your child refuses to eat broccoli but finishes off a plate of pasta. Wouldn't you do the same if you didn't know better!
Children will always pick up on your moods. If you're frustrated, then it's more likely that they will be too! It can be all too easy to lose your patience and try to shove that healthy puree into an open mouth the first chance you get. But imagine that was being done to you – pretty annoying right!
It's ok if they say no. If you respect their opinion now, they might surprise you by being more open to trying in the future.
2. Keep Trying
Research shows it takes between 8 and 15 offerings of the same food for a child to accept it. And it can take more for foods that are bitter or sour compared to sweet or salty foods. The trick is to offer disliked foods with the ones your child likes. Even if they only take a bite of the food they don't like, and otherwise stick to what they already like, this is progress. You offered, they tried and you can do it again tomorrow or the next day.
3. Don't Try Multiple Times the Same Day
If your child is refusing to eat those peas, don't put them out for every meal on principle. Mealtime should never turn into a power struggle – you'll both lose in the end as they will more than likely just refuse even harder. If you come back to it later, it shows them there's nothing special about that particular food. It's just one more ingredient on the plate and they will be more accepting of trying it again.
4. Let Them in on the Preparation
Letting your child watch (or help if they are old enough) the cooking process can work wonders. Getting something like a learning tower for your kitchen lets your child get involved and you'll be surprised what they'll eat once they've seen it being prepared. As an added bonus, you won't have toddlers hanging onto your legs while you're trying to make them food. It can be especially helpful to let them try the food while you're making it!
5. Let Them Play with Their Food
While your child is developing, everything is a science experiment. If they spend more of their time crushing their food with their hands instead of eating it, let them. Some days they will eat more, others less, but allowing them to go through their own internal process will be helpful in the end.
6. Make Sure They're Hungry
Clearly you shouldn't deprive your child of food. But they will naturally be hungrier for certain meals vs. others. Use that to your advantage if you're trying to get them to accept a certain food. Maybe give them a smaller than normal snack so they are a bit hungrier for dinner. And bring out that food they didn't want last time before you bring out the rest. They might just go for it if there are no other options!
7. Set a Good Example
"Do as I say, not as I do" is not a strategy that works with developing children! Kids learn by watching, so if you refuse to eat your greens, chances aren't great that you'll convince your children to eat them. Set the example by eating healthy foods in front of them to build healthier habits.
8. Change it Up
Your child hates solid cauliflower but will eat it in a puree? Then you have a pretty good solution to get them all the nutrients they need. Refuses the puree? Serve it whole and maybe it's more interesting that way. Maybe combine a few ingredients into a smoothie. Experimenting with a few different forms can help get them accustomed to different flavors without having them fight against a food they already have decided they don't like.
9. Offer Good Choices
Sometimes the most important thing is allowing your child to make their own choices. And if those choices are between asparagus and fries, then you are going to have a lot of leftover asparagus. Offer a few healthy choices and even if your child doesn't eat everything, at least they are getting something healthy. Just start with small portions so you aren't throwing food away!
Some days are hard. You're always trying to do your best and it can feel like a losing battle from time to time. And some days it's ok to give in to the picky eater and just let them eat bread. Or pasta. Or cheerios. Or whatever they'll eat so they don't starve. Just try again tomorrow and your child will get what they need!
Let us know what methods you have tried and what works for you in the comments.