When children are much younger, parents have full control over what they eat and how much. But as they get older, children become more complex; each becomes their own person. They come to develop their own preferences, which is great for their sense of identity, but when these preferences get in the way of eating, it can become a problem. As parents or guardians, how can you deal with a picky eater or fussy eater?
How Does a Kid Become a Picky Eater?
Cultivating healthy eating habits from a young age is important to ensure your child’s health, and picky eating can result in malnourishment and suboptimal development. But why does this happen at all? Normally, a picky eater is innately more sensitive to texture, smell and taste. Other times, it’s because their parents are fussy when it comes to food and children emulate their behavior. But one thing is clear: Both parent and child share responsibility when it comes to eating habits and developing the character of a fussy eater.
As a parent, you control what food to serve while your child decides if they will or won’t eat it1. Many parents struggle with this, unable to strike a balance between feeding what's good for their kids and serving them the food that they like2. Hopefully, the following tips will help you find an answer on what to do with your picky eater.
Active Steps to Take With a Picky Eater
- Accept your child’s preferences. At around 3 to 4 years, your kid may have preferences about food, and these can change depending on the day, or even the hour. Though it can be tricky to foresee what your child will want on any given day, there’s no need to worry. Being a picky eater or fussy eater is normal for their age. You can address this by offering a wide array of healthy foods. Allow your kid to choose from these options with just enough proportion that they can manage3.
- Encourage, but don’t force a fussy eater. When introducing your child to new food, offer only a small amount for tasting and accompany it with food they already like. Keep in mind that kids aren’t likely to eat full servings of new food. It takes 15 to 20 times of repeated exposure to acquire a new taste3 - and this is especially important to take note of if your kid is a picky eater. So if your child is picky with veggies, don’t give up. Keep on serving healthy food options.
- Build a foundation for healthy eating habits3. Form what nutritionists call “food bridges”. Once new food is accepted, seize the opportunity to give your child food with similar colors, flavors or textures. This will allow them to expand the types of food they eat even if he/she is a picky eater. So if your kids like squash, they could try kamote (sweet potato) or potato next4. Also, as part of building a healthy foundation, stick to routines. If your child doesn’t eat during mealtimes, snack time is the next chance for your kid to be able to eat2.
- Accept that sometimes they are not hungry. Avoid bribing kids to eat as they may come to associate mealtime with anxiety, and this may disrupt their natural hunger and fullness cues2. At times, becoming a picky eater can be the result of having controlling parents. Fighting over food can lead children to be more resistant or defiant1.
- Avoid preparing a separate meal. In case your kid rejects the meal you cooked for them, resist going back to the kitchen and preparing their favorite food. Doing so will only reinforce the habits of a picky eater. Instead, encourage them to stay at the table during mealtimes5.
- Teach your child table manners. Your child should understand what rules apply at the dinner table - being a picky eater or not. And they will learn this from how you and their siblings, if any, behave. By teaching and enforcing proper table manners, your child is more likely to understand that mealtimes are when the family eats together5. They should not play with their food even if they do not like what is served. Food should be treated with respect and gratitude.
- Make eating interesting. Encourage picky eaters to be more interested in food by increasing their appeal in creative ways: Cut food into fun shapes and make the food selection colorful. Include a healthy dip ㅡ such as hummus ㅡ as toddlers tend to enjoy food with dip. Serve food options in fun-sized portions so they can hold the food as well 4.
- Turn the television off during mealtimes. Impose a media curfew to minimize distractions from the food on the table1. This can be helpful in managing a fussy eater. Also, it’s a good idea to limit or control screen time in general. Media has a strong influence on young children’s minds, especially advertisements for sugary cereals, fast food and sweets.
- Finally, involve your child in meal planning. Immerse your children in meal preparation within the comfort of your home. Allow them to pick from the selection of fruits and vegetables that you have stored. Take pointers from children’s cookbooks and recipes and try them together4.
Caring for a picky eater can be challenging, but it’s possible to broaden their palate with patience and perseverance. If your child simply refuses to eat and is an extremely fussy eater, don’t worry; they will eat when they are ready. You may also complement your kids’ meals with a glass of Enfagrow A+ Four as part of their meals every day to mold a healthy, smart kid with a heart.
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1 Picky eaters. https://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/education/picky_eaters/ Accessed 30 August 2020
2 Children’s nutrition: 10 tips for picky eaters. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/c... Accessed 30 August 2020
3 Feeding & Nutrition Tips: Your 3-Year-Old. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/nutrition/Pa.... Accessed 30 August 2020
4 10 Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters. https://healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/toddler/nutrition/Pages/... Accessed 31 August 2020
5 Feeding & Nutrition Tips: 4-to 5-Year-Olds. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/preschool/nutrition-... Accessed 30 August 2020