Have you ever had to do a set of cartwheels just to get your picky eater to eat veggies? We feel you!
The truth is kids, particularly toddlers display extreme picky eating habits. If your toddler is like many kids out there, then they’d probably eat the same food over and over again rather than try other foods, such as that piece of vegetable you want them to pick.
Many parents worry over this and you know your child’s diet may not be providing the nutrition they need for their growth.
And believe it or not, this is exactly the reason why other kids have immature digestive systems, infections, or allergies.
So if your toddler is a picky eater, what can you do to help your kids learn to eat healthy foods?
The answer lies in understanding the reason behind why they’re picky eaters in the first place.
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The Evolution of the Picky Eater
How does picky eating happen? Normally, there are some children who have sensitive taste buds, sense of smell, and texture. Others develop picky eating habits by watching their parents.
Picky eating habits develop when parents punish, reward, or use bribery to address their children’s eating behaviors.
The goal is to teach kids, especially the picky eaters, to try new foods and to not make every meal a battle.
Children usually start becoming picky when they start feeding themselves. This is most likely because they finally get to have a choice as to what and how much they want to eat.
And yes, these toddlers are smart, and they’ll definitely use that freedom to their advantage. Some days they may eat like grownups, other days they would be content to live on almost nothing.
Now as you know, children grow up real fast in their first year of life. Their growth only starts slowing down by their second year, where they’ll also start learning new skills like speaking, walking, running, climbing, and a whole lot more.
But why are we talking about growth here? Weren’t we talking about food? Well, that’s because your child’s eating habits are closely related to their growth as well.
We know that young kids do not react well to change and that they like the comfort of a predictable schedule or routine.
They like to feel in control so that when things don’t go as expected they can get upset and emotional. This is why using the wrong bowl or spoon, or changing the way you cool their meals can trigger a gigantic meltdown.
This desire for control extends to the food that they eat. It helps them feel safe and secure when they can control what’s happening in their environment.
So the next time your toddler is being picky about food, then they’re probably just feeling a little bit anxious.
Seemingly overnight, your child’s favorite foods can become something disgusting. It’s the weirdest thing, but at this stage, your toddler’s preference will change. When your child refuses to eat certain foods, they can stop liking that food for life.
But hey! Don’t keep your hopes up too high. Just because tastes change doesn’t guarantee they’ll learn to love that broccoli they just spit out earlier.
Managing Your Expectations
As a parent, you might have some expectations about how much your toddler should eat. Being the tiny humans that they are, it would be quite unreasonable to expect your kids to eat a big portion every day. After all, the size of a toddler’s stomach is the size of a clenched fist.
So rather than think about the quantity of food your toddler is getting, focus first on the quality of the food you’re giving them.
Remember, your role as a parent is to provide nutritious foods for meals and snacks. Your child’s role is to be responsible for what and how much they eat.
It gives them an understanding of what it feels like to be hungry and then full, and how to make healthy choices, such as knowing when to eat and when to stop eating.
Dealing with Your Picky Eater
The best way to deal with a picky eater is to NOT use any form of pressure. We’re adding that text in all-caps so it’s clear.
Do not bargain, bribe, or negotiate because this makes the child feel defensive. When they start feeling this way the less willing they are to try to eat foods they haven’t tasted before.
Rather than do all those things, here are some techniques to help your picky eater eat healthier:
1. Be patient and try to relax.
There are practical solutions to help you handle feeding your toddler. Just know that your child won’t starve as you keep offering healthy food choices with a few alternatives. Let your child decide when and how much to eat.
2. Give your child choices.
Offer up two to three choices of food. When a child chooses the types of food to eat, this lets them feel in control. It’s also the perfect opportunity to practice making good food decisions.
3. Prepare simple and familiar meals.
Use those plates that have dividers for different types of food. You can put aside ingredients for mixed meals before assembling them. Allow your child to put together what he likes, for example, bread, ham, and cheese to make a sandwich.
4. Allow your child to help you prepare the food.
Picky eaters would be more willing to eat the meal they help plan, buy, or prepare. You can plan a meal together with your child, one that he or she likes. While shopping, ask your child to pick a new food for the whole family to try. Your toddler can act as your “sous chef” as they learn to wash fresh fruits or make grilled cheese sandwiches.
5. Play a restaurant game with your child by asking them to be the waiter.
He can practice pouring water, milk, or juice, putting on spreads for bread, or scooping up food and putting it on the plate. Don’t get upset with the mess because it is part of the learning process.
6. Have child-friendly food and snacks, as well as child-friendly plates and utensils in your kitchen.
This allows your child to get them easily with his or her small hands. Get broad, straight, or short-handled utensils such as a wide-mouthed spoon, blunt-tine forks, and plates with curved edges to help your kid eat healthy food and snacks easily.
7. Offer different types of vegetables.
If your child hates spinach then you can just offer up corn. If they don’t like carrots, they can just have sweet potatoes. You can serve up cheese or yogurt instead of milk. Give them different foods but with the same nutritional value.
8. Check out bento boxes for kids to make mealtime fun with a variety of colors and textures.
You can watch Youtube videos on how to make Japanese meals for kids. Crowd favorites like chicken teriyaki skewers, fun sushi balls, and tempura will surely make lunchtime something to look forward to.
9. Cook soft and easily chewable food like stews and soups.
For vegetables, just add a bit of cheese or mayo as a dip on the side. Serve crackers with chicken spread or cream cheese. Kids love dips.
10. Create meals that can be eaten with vegetables mixed into it, such as:
- Veggie burgers
- Spring rolls
- Mashed potatoes
- Sweet potato pie
- Squash soup
- Chicken sopas
11. Cut up your fruits and vegetables into nice shapes
Put them in easily accessible containers in the fridge. Vegetables like sliced carrots, cucumber, turnips, with dips may be placed in the refrigerator.
Also leave sliced fruits like melons, cantaloupes, avocados, watermelon, apples, oranges, grapefruit, pomelo, mangoes, and pineapples covered yet easily accessible inside the refrigerator so that a child can easily reach for these when hungry.
You can also try shaping the vegetables and fruit slices like animals.
Mealtime should be an enjoyable time no matter what age. Make it a time where you tell stories and laugh together. It’s a chance to catch up as a family and be grateful for the food that you have on the dinner table.
Remember: Healthy eating is about happiness and enjoyment. So if mealtimes are anything but happy for you these days as you deal with a picky eater, try out the suggestions above and let us know how things go!
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