Five Tips for Coping with your Picky Eater Featured

Authors: Registered Dietitians

Five Tips for Coping with your Picky Eater

(  “Begin with the end in mind” is the first of the habits that the late Stephen Covey discussed in his popular book  Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.   This is the habit of having a dream and defining a vision.  The habit where all things are created twice – once when you imagine it (your mental creation) and once in reality (your physical creation).  Being able to visualize the “end” allows you to create plans to get you where you want to go.

When you think about your child's eating, what is the end your have in mind?  Do you hope your child will be able to:

  • willingly eat vegetables as part of their diet, even when you are not there? 
  • eat a meal that someone else has prepared, even if it has unfamiliar foods?
  • eat some of their favourite treat-type foods while still being able to balance that with foods that fuel their body?

I think deciding what your end in mind is around food and eating is helpful in deciding where you choose to focus your parenting energies.  However, while you are moving toward your end in mind, there may be day-to-day struggles around food and picky eating.  

Here are 5 tips to help support you in moving toward your food and nutrition "end in mind".  

Tip #1: Don’t force it!  Resist the temptation to bribe.  

  • Parents are responsible for providing food for their child in a safe environment at mostly consistent times…but it is the child’s responsibility to eat it. 
  • Resist the temptation to bribe them with food.  Example "if you try the broccoli, then you can have dessert".  Let your caregivers and extended family know this is going to be your approach as well.
  • Research has shown that approaching new foods, including vegetables, in this way, decreases the preference for the new food and increases the preference for dessert. 
  • Allow your child to decline the food, be patient.  They are more likely to try it again next time.  How much is that piece of broccoli worth to you?

Tip #2: Persistence pays off!

  • You’ve heard it before – and it is true - Keep offering different fruits and vegetables [or whatever the challenging food is] at snacks and mealtime and let the kids learn to eat them.  
  • Children are learning about different foods, textures and tastes as they grow.  They may need to try a food several times before they adapt to and start to like the new food.  This can take up to 20 tries or more but many parents give up after only a few tries [And really, who wouldn’t feel like giving up?  It feels like a waste of food, not to mention effort].  If you have a very persistent child, it may take more tries before they are willing to try it.  My son would NOT EAT beef or any meat for 8 months straight.  We had given up on offering him beef.  One day, out of the blue, we were eating a prime rib roast – and boom – he showed interest in our food.  He surprised us by gobbling up 5 ounces of prime rib roast.  Lesson?  #keeptrying!

Tip #3: Take advantage of a change in routine

  • A change in your routine - a visit to see family or friends, a vacation – anything that shifts your routine provides an opportunity to get back into something new.
  • Children's taste preferences evolve -  see how your child’s tastes change over the next year.  

Tip #4: Pay attention to the time of day when your child is most receptive to trying new foods

  • The end of the day - supper - was typically the worst time to wish for interest in trying new foods [or it was in my house].  Even now, I find that my kids take in vegetables and fruits best at mid-am snack, lunch and before bed.  
  • Pay attention to the small windows of opportunity that your child offers you.  If your child is in child-care, talk to your child's caregiver about what you are trying to accomplish and get them on-side with your plan.

Tip #5: Serve your meals, including the challenging food, family-style

  • Have all the foods at the table that you are offering your child, including the food that you wish for your child to eat.  Your consistent offering of, for example, vegetables and fruits and your child’s consistent seeing those foods help to demonstrate that these foods are a normal part of every day eating.

Stay tuned for Part II.

Written by Kristyn Hall MSc, RD, Director and Dietitian, HealthCastle Calgary.  Thank you to Laurel Zvaigzne BSc Natural Science and BSc Dietetics [candidate] for her contributions to the research behind this post.

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