Tips - 08 June 2023
If you’re struggling with your fussy eater, there are strategies that can help even the most reluctant children to try new foods. But before we skip over to the solutions and provide you with some dinner ideas for picky eaters, we need to understand why kids are so picky with food.
When it comes to fussy eaters, there isn’t one primary reason. According to a 2015 review that includes studies which date back to the 1990s, picky or choosy eating habits were linked to and affected by various reasons, from personality traits to parental control at mealtime, social influences and even maternal eating patterns – or your kid just being a kid!
There are proven strategies for picky eaters when coupled with patience, persistence and some expert insight.
Provide and let them play
Do you feel like you’re heading into a war zone come dinnertime with a fussy eater at home? We get you. If you’re flustered about feeding your child and prepping food for a picky eater, remember that it’s only your responsibility to prep and provide the meal, while the child is responsible for whether they want to eat it.
The idea is to provide healthy options for your child, then ‘leave it up to them’ to chow down. It may be difficult for parents who were raised to clean their plates and not to ‘play with their food’. It takes patience and consistency, but let your child be involved in the meal prep process and ‘play’ with the ingredients so they grow a liking to it through action (i.e. chopping, washing, handling). It’s good to get them into food at an early age, and it’s also a creative activity for kids which will keep them entertained for hours.
Scale back on snacks
This may be an obvious one, but we all know snacking prior to a mealtime will ruin your appetite, especially if you’re a picky eater. There are many studies that found when families had reduced their snack/beverage intake between meals, children were more receptive to trying something new (to eat) because they were truly hungry.
The best practice is not to go cold turkey on snacks but to lower or cut back to one to three snacks at relatively consistent times throughout the day, so it doesn’t limit your little one’s hunger for dinner and helps their stomach be ready to consume food comfortably (not starving and not full).
Go small, slow and steady
The key to any change is to do it gradually over time. Discover what makes your child so put off by certain foods. Is it the colour? The texture? The smell? Once you know why, try a different way of serving or incorporating that ingredient into meals. For example, if your picky eater hates broccoli, instead of serving it whole steamed or in chunks in a stir-fry, you might want to try blending it into mashed potatoes to change the ‘look’ and texture of it.
They might still know there’s broccoli inside and refuse to eat, but this is where persistence and encouragement need to kick in. Give them time, allow them to ‘investigate’ and let them eat with foods they like or add a different flavour (i.e. sauce) to it. These small changes will make a difference – you just need to stick with it and be creative with dinner ideas for your picky eater!
Harness the power of peers
Getting your fussy eater to at least try is half the battle and there’s no one that can influence your child more than a friend. When they see their friend take a big bite out of that sandwich with tomato inside, they’re more likely to try it – or even outdo their friend by taking two bites!
This is great for instilling some ‘friendly rivalry’ when you need an extra push to help your child try new foods they wouldn’t otherwise. Ditto for dinner guests (i.e. family members they like or look up to) or at playdates and parties where they see their peers do it and are likely to be less picky and naturally accept what’s on offer.
Want to entice the picky eaters in your home to make some healthy choices? Discover our Healthy Snack Ideas Blog for some delicious food choices they won’t be able to resist. Or for times when you need some quick and easy snack ideas, read our tips for fueling your body here. Cooking is the perfect activity if you’re looking for things to do over the school holidays.