Does your child loudly protest every meal? Do they silently refuse to taste anything except pasta or chicken nuggets? If meals are exhausting from dealing with your picky child, take a step back and a deep breath. Here are some ways you can encourage your child to open up to more foods.
Limit snacks and sugar
If your child is grazing all the time, odds are they won’t be hungry for meals. They also learn that they can eat whatever and whenever they want. So why bother eating what you’ve cooked? One solution is to schedule snack times. For example, this snack schedule suggests having three snacks at specific times during the day. Children then know that if they don’t eat during a scheduled snack or meal time, there will be no food for them until the next one. Drinking sugary drinks may also limit your child’s hunger. If they drink too many calories, they will feel full when meal time rolls around. So, give them water instead. You can add real fruit to flavor the water or choose pre-flavored waters with zero calories.
Cook the same meal for everyone
Even though it’s tempting to make a separate meal for your picky eater, this only reinforces the problem. Simply cook one meal that everyone eats together, and make it clear that the child can choose to eat it or not, but that’s all the food they get. Make sure you try to include at least one thing in the meal they enjoy. If they still refuse, just passively go on with your own eating. Bribing, begging, or threatening will likely not make a difference or reinforce the right ideas. Don’t get caught up in a power play with your child. Simply eat your meal and let them make their own choice. If they don’t want to eat that food, you can always try again another time.
Rethink meals and meal prep
Consider letting your child help prepare the meal. For example, toddlers can help in the kitchen by washing fruits or veggies, measuring and pouring seasonings, or mixing ingredients. If they are involved in the meal prep, they may be more open to trying the end result. If you’re looking to feed your child healthier meals, try working up to it with this “dinner detox.” Start with some meals they like, and gradually alter them to include healthier ingredients in the same tasty form.
Picky eating can feel impossible, but it is usually just a phase. If you have a picky eater, you are not alone! Just keep trying and rest assured they will likely expand their palate someday.