10 Tips for changing your “picky eaters” habits
Updated: Sep 1, 2021
You have probably heard of or have gotten used to the phrase “picky eaters”. When it comes to children, it can be a tough battle of creating healthy eating habits. My discovery is that, once you start the process early, you can change the direction of a child's life with more healthy eating habits than so much the dreaded "picky eating" issues that sometimes arise.
My children are not picky eaters but they do have their preferences when it comes to what they like to eat. I have learned earlier on in the process one solid key and that is to expose them to a wide variety of foods to kind of open their appetites.
My kids are exposed to two different cultures of the Caribbean and African descent that are known for having flavorful and unique food groups that may differ from those in the United States. They are therefore used to eating a variety of foods from our culture and also from the US.
Based on what I have observed with them and their appetites, along with some cultural things that I have experienced in my childhood and also in my husband's culture, here are my tips and suggestions for changing your "picky eaters" or even starting the process before you get to that stage.
Have you also found any ideas that you could share? Please feel free to add to my list, or ask your questions or concerns in our FORUM section. I would be happy to help you!
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Remember it will take a little time and much-needed effort on your part as a parent to implement especially if it has started. However, after having these steps in place, the journey will become less of a hassle and much easier to manage.
1. OFFER A VARIETY OF MEALS
Offer a wide variety of meals. The most crucial time I think for this process is at the early introduction of foods that may start around the 6 month age period.
This is a great time to offer different flavors and a variety of foods to boost your baby's appetite for later on. I am not a health expert when it comes to making suggestions about foods to start with, so always make sure to check with your pediatrician.
Also, try to provide a larger and wider variety of foods from different food groups. Your child may be a fan of bread and rice, but try potatoes and pasta as well. Or they may love carrots, but throw some spinach and broccoli in the mixture.
My mother had a degree in dietetics and nutrition and I can remember growing up eating various different foods and dishes as she prepared them. I have grown to love the different variety of foods and meals as well and I try to prepare different things as much as I can to introduce my kids to variety. Now as an adult, my sisters and I are minimal picky eaters.
So offer a wide variety of new foods all the time and keep rotating the ones they are used to with them so that they learn as they grow to get familiar with a wider selection of foods. Check out our Mommy Inspired Meal Planner that has a Free Toddler Meal Plan to get inspiration from.
2. KEEP DISTRACTIONS AWAY AND AT MINIMUM
Sometimes we may get this right and sometimes we may not. I cannot say that I haven't allowed them to watch television while eating before but based on my observation, I really dislike the idea.
I know it is a popular thing to have dinner while watching the television, but based on my observation with my kids, it's a huge huge distraction. It prolongs the mealtime process and also I tend to have lots of leftover food on the plate. Whenever I allow no tv time, I get more empty plates and a quicker mealtime process.
Distractions therefore really can harm a child's eating habits and cause the development of picky eaters. Being distracted does not allow the child to eat and enjoy their meals, which is what we want as moms.
When there are no distractions, they are more likely to savor the foods that they are eating and discover what food is really like. This I believe will also eliminate the unhealthy food choice and introduce more interest in healthier ones.
3. PREPARE COLORFUL/ATTRACTIVE MEALS
As an adult like myself, for instance, I am drawn to colorfully prepared meals and dishes. I love the color in foods and that's what boosts my appetite for meals. Expect the same for your child.
Colorful meals are an appetite opener, especially in children. Colors draw attention to the meal quicker than plain foods may do. My preference for example with rice for some reason, the yellow rice that I prepare with added saffron is more popular with my kids than plain white rice, even though it is rice.
They just love the color and added flavor of the yellow rice better. Mix it up with bright orange carrots, or beans, etc. just to add that pop of color to the meal as well.
4. PREPARE FLAVORFUL FOODS
I do believe in flavorful foods being an appetite stimulant. My husband and I are from cultures that offer flavorful and sometimes spicy foods. It is so unique that when we do go out to restaurants or try different foods, we can feel a distinctive taste right away.
Our culture uses a lot of spices in meal preparations. My kids have gotten used to the flavor of foods that way as well. Don't be too shy in spicing up kids' food as well. You can start small, with black pepper and sea salt for example.
My youngest loves a little old bay season on plain boil eggs. He gobbles those down so quickly, that I sometimes have to make more just for him. I have a testimony as well about my little niece who I would say is a "picky eater". She is not a fan of any box prepared macaroni and cheese and can tell right away that it is, once it is given to her.
So I decided to take her up on a challenge and tweak the same box of mac and cheese with added spices, more cheese, and milk. You would be surprised to know that she ate the mac and cheese and told her mom that it was the best macaroni and cheese she has ever had.
What was the difference? I made it a lot more flavorful. Experiment with spices and see what happens when you do.
5. OFFER A VARIETY OF TEXTURES FOR FOOD
So I tried a little experiment with my kids and I have discovered that the way their food is prepared is key in what they will actually eat. My 4-year-old for example, will not eat the corn if it is in his vegetables or his rice.
He will however chomp down on a corn on the cob to no avail. What is the difference you might say? The texture of the corn is more appealing than just a serving of corn on his plate. Corn on the cob, therefore, is way more popular.
Another example is how carrots are prepared. Who would have thought that raw baby carrots with both my children were way more popular than cooked shredded carrots? They are fascinated with the crunchiness of the carrots and it is a hit with them.
I have discovered therefore that texture is really important when planning meals for kids. Try different textures and see what is a hit with your own children. As long as they are getting their vegetables, I don't mind giving the raw version with a crunchy effect rather than the cooked version.
6. OFFER SMALLER SERVINGS AT MEAL TIME
I have suffered through this before with my own children. I have discovered that they are more likely to finish what's on their plate and ask for seconds when the portion size is smaller.
The smaller portion size looks less overwhelming in comparison to a plate piled high with food. The meal will most likely end up being tossed away than otherwise.
Just as an adult, in the world of dieting, we choose to offer portion control. Expect the same for our kids as well. Start small and allow them to eat that portion and be excited that they have finished their dinner, rather than offering so much at the start with a staggering response.
I know, as a mom we are always yelling anyway for them to finish their meals. So help them out a bit.
7. FIND FOODWARE THAT IS COLOURFUL AND ATTRACTIVE
Dinner time doesn't have to be boring. You can be creative when it comes to serving kids. Just as we are drawn to colorful plates and candles etc at mealtime, it's the same for kids as well.
Get some colorful plates, utensils, dinner mats as well to use with your kids. It is definitely an appetite opener for little ones.
My sister bought my kids a plate called "FREDS DINNER WINNER" that looks like a map where you start at one end and continue all the way to the end to a treat. It was a hit with my kids from the start.
I do recommend trying it for your pickiest of eaters to see how they respond to it. Ikea is my favorite place to purchase colorful plates and accessories for kids, but you can also find them on Amazon.com.
8. USE YOUR SAUCES AND CONDIMENTS
Sauces and condiments are great to serve with meals, especially for kids. It adds more flavor to bland meals as well. I am guilty, do not judge me, but I do save the condiments from restaurants and fast food places and re-use them with my kids.
They are fascinated sometimes with just dipping into sauces or packets. So I have tried this on them, especially with raw carrots, I may give them a ranch dip and they just love the dipping effect I guess. I just can't explain it quickly enough. Try it and see if it works for your kids as well.
9. OFFER A TREAT AFTERWARDS
Hey, who doesn't want a treat after eating all their food at dinner. It is super exciting for kids and somehow boosts their interest in eating their meals.
I think it is ok to have a small snack or treat to look forward to after dinner. For example, a small cookie or a small scoop of ice cream really helps sometimes with my kids to look forward to their treats after they finish their meals. It also makes dinner time more inviting and exciting.
10. CUT BACK ON THE YELLING AND SCREAMING
This process of teaching your children how to eat is quite challenging for most parents. It is not a perfect process and takes time to build the end result that you desire.
In everything, try not to get frustrated, and remember that these are tips that I used with my children and it may or may not work for you. Try and see what works best and keep a positive mindset that this phase of "picky eating" will eventually pass.
Start the process at the level you're at and take each day as it goes. Remember there is no perfect parent. It is all a journey of trial and error.
Overall I do hope that these tips and tricks will help you to screen and change certain behaviors that are unpleasant by implementing new ways to remove such behaviors from occurring in the future.
Remember as always that you should still consult with your child's Pediatrician before implementing any new strategies.
I do have another blog post on "Tips for battling the mealtime blues" that you can read as well to help you with the struggles that you may have at mealtime itself.
Did you find the strategies listed in this article helpful? What were some of your favorite tips? How have they worked for you? Leave a comment below, I’d love to know what you think.
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