Easy to Digest Advice on Picky Eaters
Parents have been picking my brain in regard to how to handle their picky eaters. Well, let me provide more than a mouthful of information on this topic that will be easy to digest.
Picky eating is a common, normal childhood behavior. Recent studies suggest that even toddlers who are considered “good eaters” will need to try a new food at least 10 times before they will say they like it. Other studies suggest that children who are extremely picky have relatives who also demonstrated this behavior, suggesting it may be an inherited trait in some families.
That being said, if you want to get your child or toddler to try a new food, I have some suggestions:
1. Set a good example. If you show your child you are willing to enjoy trying a new food with them, they are more apt to eat that food.
2. If it is a food you dislike, don't express that or your child will mimic that behavior.
3. Let your child know the benefits of trying a new food in terms of things that will appeal to them. For example, if your child is interested in sports and professional athletes, tell them that eating yogurt or cheese is something athletes do to make their bones stronger.
4. Consider holding a "food inventing contest" where you invite children to mix up fruits, vegetables, spreads, tortillas, rolls, lunchmeat, and a food they have not tried into a tasty and creative snack. If they like the snack they make, they may be more apt to like the new food they tried as well.
5. If your child likes a particular topping - like peanut butter - consider putting that onto a new food to entice them to try it.
Just because a child refuses a new food doesn't mean they won't try it several days or weeks later. It's also important to not call a lot of attention to the fact that a new food has appeared on the plate. The more you make a production of trying a new food, the more your child is apt to refuse it. A solution to the control issue is to offer your child a choice of 2 to 3 new foods, and that way they are making the decision of what to try instead of you making it for them. Finally, one of my favorite tips is to have your child eat with friends who are not as picky. When your child sees a friend eating new foods, they will probably try that food too even when they won’t do it for you.
Hopefully, tips like this will whet your appetite when it comes to getting your child to be less picky about trying new foods.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at http://www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids