Making well balanced, nutritional meals for the family can be difficult enough, but add picky eaters to the mix and it can almost be impossible. How can parents help their children explore new foods and enlarge the list of foods they like? Here are a few tips to avoid having picky eaters that have worked well for me and my family.
Babies, when they are first being introduced to solid foods, usually still have the tongue thrust reflex. This reflex is useful when the baby is an infant because it helps keep foreign objects from choking the baby. However, many parents often mistake the baby’s tongue coming out as a sign that the baby doesn’t enjoy the food. The reality is that the baby probably hasn’t even tasted it yet.
Tip one for babies:
When introducing new foods to a baby just learning to eat, hold the spoon on the baby’s tongue, gently with the spoon, so the food stays in the baby’s mouth. Give the baby several tastes of the same food before moving on.
Tip two for babies:
Introduce the baby to a wide variety of baby food, especially the meats and vegetables. The more food the baby gets introduced to at a young age, the more accepting they will be of new foods in the future. With my first baby, I didn’t give her any of the baby food meat. I thought it looked gross and smelled worse, so I didn’t bother giving it to her. When she got to the toddler stage we had to work really hard to get her to eat any meat. It was just so unfamiliar to her, so she wouldn’t eat it.
Keep dishes simple
When babies are toddlers, and through their preschool years, their pallets tend to be very sensitive. They taste flavors very strongly. So, complicated dishes are overwhelming and unappealing to their taste buds. Creating a meal, like chicken cordon bleu, which is appealing to a grown-up will overwhelm the toddler.
Tip one for toddlers through preschoolers:
When making an adult meal, try to make it so the main flavors of the meal can be presented to the toddler separately. If making Chicken Cordon Bleu, make it so that the toddlers eating can have each of the components presented to them separately. For example, when my preschooler was 2 and 3, she didn’t like sandwiches, really didn’t like sandwiches. The combination of tastes just overwhelmed her. But, if I presented her with the bread in small pieces, the meat in small pieces, the cheese in small pieces, and the veggies in small pieces – well, then she’d eat them all. She just didn’t like the tastes all together in her mouth at the same time.
Tip two for toddlers through preschoolers:
Make sure the portions of each food are small so they don’t overwhelm the child. Little children have little stomachs and feel overwhelmed when they see their plate full of food they “need” to eat. It is better to give them a tablespoon of each food, let them eat that, and then ask if they want more. This way they learn to eat until their tummies are full and have success at doing so.
Tip three for toddlers through preschoolers:
Eating is still a new skill this age group is learning and is very hard work. Let them work at their food on their own for a while, but offer to help them eat more if they get tired of feeding themselves and are still hungry. I remember eating dinner with my three year old niece several years ago. She’d been working at her food for a few minutes, but put her fork down. She turned to me and said, “I’m still hungry, but it’s very hard to eat by myself.” I helped her eat enough until she felt full, and I learned an important lesson about a skill I take for granted.
Using these tips, I’ve had good success in helping my children gain the skills necessary to eat what is given to them and have helped them through their picky eater stage.