Picky eating is extremely common in young children. This can be frustrating for parents who want to ensure their children are getting a balanced diet. When a child refuses to eat a food and steadfastly says no to so many of the items you put in front of them, it’s understandable for the first instinct to be to try to force the child to eat.
You’ll quickly find, though, that young children have very strong wills and can’t be forced to eat something they don’t want to eat. Besides, attempting to force the matter will only develop a negative association with that food, making it even less likely they will eat it in the future.
Instead of using force for getting your child to try new foods, try the following steps instead:
- Start young: From the time your child first begins solid foods, you should focus on giving them a wide range of nutritious foods and flavors. This will encourage acceptance of more different types of foods and potentially limit some issues with pickiness as they grow older.
- Introduce slowly: New foods should be introduced one at a time and served with familiar foods. Giving a child a plate with multiple new foods at once can be overwhelming. Having something familiar gives them a food to fall back on and will make it less scary for them to try something new.
- Eliminate distractions: Try to remove distractions from the dinner table, so they can focus on eating.
- Involve children in food prep: Getting children involved in food preparation and cooking can help them experiment with new foods in a sensory way. They’ll get comfortable with experimenting with the food physically before it shows up on their plate, which can make the prospect of trying it a little less scary.
- Start with small portions: Children are much more likely to try a new food when it’s served in bite-sized portions rather than when you drop a full helping on their plate. A small amount of a new food is much less intimidating.
- Don’t pressure them: Avoid putting pressure on your child to eat all of the new food or to clear their plate. Not only does this add some stress to the experience, but it also goes against natural hunger cues. Let them stop eating if they wish to do so.
- Praise: Make sure you praise your child when they try a new food. This will encourage them to do so again in the future.
- Avoid rewards: Never use dessert as a reward or other types of bribes to get your child to try new foods. The praise should be enough.
- Be consistent: It may take many different attempts and exposures with a new food for the child to finally accept it. Don’t give up. Keep giving them small amounts, and don’t pressure them to try it or finish it. Let them warm up to the food at their own pace.
Contact us at Kids Kingdom Early Learning Center for more tips about how to introduce foods to a picky eater.