tips for picky eating

Improve Picky Eating Today!

10 simple tips for picky eating

It is not uncommon for young children to go through stages where they used to eat something, then suddenly refuse. They may just as suddenly request that same food again a few months later. Some children, however, have true food regressions and their picky eating lasts longer, and may turn into a real problem. The issues may be due to a medical condition, sensory issues related to autism, or a bad experience with a certain food or texture.

Regardless of the reasons, a few simple tips for picky eating can improve your experience – and you can implement them starting today!

tips for picky eating

1. Start with a routine

A good meal and snack schedule helps set the stage for your child to develop the sense of hunger. He will also learn that eating occurs at predictable times. We want to decrease grazing all day. I often hear that many picky eaters have full access to the kitchen, and will self-select preferred foods all day long (often high-carb, high-sugar and processed treats). Consequently, a healthy, balanced meal goes untouched. A common side effect of this scenario is frustrated parents. Having a routine, and a “closed kitchen” in between snacks and meals, is a good place to start to improve picky eating today.

2. Look at the seating arrangement

Are you child’s feet dangling? Is he trying to balance on a backless stool? Can he reach the table? Does she feel secure in her chair? There are a lot of factors to consider when trying to improve picky eating, but this is one of the simplest! Your child should have feet touching a solid surface (chair rung, foot rest), elbows at 90 degrees to the table, back support, and a seat that fits his hip width, such as a booster, if necessary. Fidgety kids may sit on a wobble cushion but should still have adequate support their trunk and feet.

3. Decrease bribes

Bribing with dessert, electronics, or a later bedtime may seem like a good idea in the moment. Your child eats what you want, and they get rewarded. Win-win, right? Unfortunately, this practice really does nothing to improve picky eating in the long run. Instead, it teaches children that eating is a behavior that should be performed for rewards. I don’t know about you, but this is not the type of relationship I want my children to have with food!

4. Serve meals family-style

This is a fun tip that you can begin today to get your child more involved in scooping and serving her own portions while building table manners and independence. A child who has control over something at the table is very important – and allowing your child to decide how much of each food (within reason) they want to eat gives back healthy control.  This is one of the key principles of Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility, which I have mentioned before in my article, Change Your Child’s Relationship With Food.

5. Don’t sneak

Feeding your child is a trust issue, and betraying trust will definitely not improve picky eating. I do not advocate lying to your child about what is in their food, because they will detect a taste or color difference in familiar or preferred foods. If it’s a newer food, feel free to prepare that however you’d like, but please don’t add pureed veggies to the favorite mac ‘n cheese, as he may never touch it again!

6. Encourage self-feeding

Self-feeding is an important part of the developmental process of toddlers. To work on improving picky eating, allow your child to get messy, to explore food and textures with all of his senses, and to practice with open cups and spoons and forks. Don’t worry about wiping her face and hands after every bite – enjoy the entire process, major mess and all. The picture I’ve included is my son at around 6 months. (Put a sheet or tarp under her high chair, or get a few dogs, if you are really concerned!).

7. Set an example

You can improve your child’s picky eating today by being a great role model. Show that you are willing to try new things. Praise him specifically if he does the same “I know it was hard to try those green beans, but I’m proud of you for being brave!”

8. Portion size is key

Portions sizes are always a hot topic, despite age group, says Stephany Rodriguez, a Florida-based Registered Dietitian. “Parents of picky eaters tend to get very anxious when they see how much other kids eat while their child only takes one bite off the plate. Trust your child – he or she is able to self-regulate how much they want to eat at each meal/snack. As a parent, you are responsible for providing exposure to a variety of foods”. 

Stephany continues, “there are a few methods to use as a guideline for portion sizes. Keep in mind, these are approximates, as your child will determine how much they will eat off their plate. The goal is to raise a mindful eater not a child that eats everything off the plate.

My favorite method to use is 1 tablespoon (tbsp.) per age group/per food group. For instance, if you child is 6 years of age you are going to serve 6 tbsp of fruits, veggies, protein and carbs. I love the simplicity of this method. It helps you set realistic expectations and your child will not feel overwhelmed with adult portion sizes. Now, if you are serving a new food that you want your child to explore then you might want to start with a smaller portion.

Another method to use is ¼ cup for fruits and protein and ½ cup for vegetables and carbs. The downside is that age is not taken into account with this recommendation. 

Remember, these are just guidelines and your child’s appetite changes daily and during the day depending on their activity level. Don’t be strict on portion sizes with your picky eater. Instead, let them explore at their own pace, without pressuring, and work on exposure not consumption.”

9. Keep it simple

Mixed foods with too many flavors, colors and textures are typically not what picky eaters want! There is time to build a more sophisticated palate later on. You can improve picky eating today by keeping it simple! Single ingredients to no more than 4 ingredients in a recipe is a good rule of thumb.

10. Have fun

Decrease struggles by making mealtime – and playtime away from the table – fun! Have fun with meals by having “backwards day” (dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner), presenting food creatively in a theme, or serving a small dessert first! You can also have children help cook and create new combinations and recipes. Older kids can help shop and prepare food.

Some sensory ideas include creating bins of dry beans, rice, and corn and exploring them with hands (and feet!) Use wet textures like shaving cream, finger paints, foamy soap, bubbles, glue, slime, and even foods like pudding and yogurt to play with on a tray or outside. Dig in sand or mud and create “mud pies” and sandcastles to decorate. Encouraging messy play away from the table shows children that sensory exploration is fun, not stressful!

I have found in my practice that small changes daily add it to big changes over time. If you want more tips for picky eating, feel free to contact us.

Additional resources for picky eating

If you’d like to discover more tips for picky eating, please check out these resources.

10 Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters

16 Helpful Tips for Picky Eaters

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