Picky eating can be challenging! And it can come in many forms. Some days little learners may turn their noses up at carrots. The next day, they cannot, will not eat anything green on their plates. Other days they remember that grilled cheese is “better” than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Either way, they will let you know what they want – or at least what they don’t.
Knowing what foods and beverages are good for them helps children gain healthy habits. Realistically, of course, we know that children of any age may not always choose the healthiest option. And some days, it can be a real challenge to balance their learning experiences with their well-being.
Picky eating usually peaks in the toddler and pre-k years, but it can happen at any age. Never fear, though, there are many things you can do! Before you give up on broccoli, try some of these ideas for dealing with picky eaters:
It’s a texture issue.
If your child dislikes mushy foods, they probably like apple slices more than they like applesauce. Adding other textures, like crunchy or crispy, might also help your little one warm up to trying mushy foods. “The applesauce is mushy, but with this cracker it’s now crunchy too!”
She doesn’t want to try new foods.
Encourage your little one to try something new each time. Combining foods they know and like with new foods helps them know what they like. Healthy dipping sauces like yogurt, hummus or low-fat dressings can make vegetables more exciting. “You didn’t like cold baby mushrooms. But what if we dip them in spaghetti and meatballs?
Your child doesn’t like sitting down to eat.
Some children are very active and long dinner periods may translate to picky eating. Try shorter dinner times short or leaving healthy snacks out, like berries or bananas.
He keeps telling you he doesn’t feel good.
It’s possible your child might have difficulty swallowing. Some children have trouble digesting some types of food. An appointment with a health care provider for an evaluation may help you get the answers you need. And that can lead to happier dinner times.
Your little one is ready to be independent.
Carrots or bread or water may not be the problem. Children sometimes refuse foods because they want more control over meal time. They may want more choices, more freedom to feed themselves or to help at mealtime. Providing finger foods and safe utensils can help them feel independent. Invite them to serve themselves or measure ingredients. Each as they take charge of their well-being.
Bonus Idea: Treat grocery shopping as a fun family activity. The experience can expand the horizons of your little learner as they hear you talk about the foods the family leeds and likes and how they get to your table.
Things to remember:
- Your toddler’s stomach is roughly the size of a clenched fist. It may look like they are not eating a lot, but they may just be eating enough for their size!
- Children experience lots of changes as they grow. Sameness and routine makes them feel safe. That sometimes means they may want to eat the same foods again and again.
- Children are also learning what it feels like to be hungry and when they are full. The role of parents or caregivers is to provide healthy options for meals and snacks.
- Research shows that children may need to be exposed to new foods up to ten times before they try it.
- Additionally, children’s food preferences tend to look a lot like the food preferences of their parents or caregivers. When their grown-ups try new foods and eat healthily, little learners are encouraged to do it too!
- Bargaining for two more bites in exchange of dessert or a prize may not work in the long run. Instead of learning how to do things on their own, you children may be learning to only do things if they can get a reward.
Build Your Child’s Brighter Future!
Want to dive deeper into the health and growth of your little one? Check out our Physical Health and Growth Play and Learning guidance for:
- Babies — When he grabs for the spoon? Forget messes! Let him learn – he’s telling you he’s ready.
- One-year-olds — From peas to potatoes, he’s moving on! Your toddler is eager to try new foods.
- Two-year-olds — Her own health and well-being are becoming more important to her!
- Three-year-olds — She’s beginning to learn which foods are good for her body.
- Pre-K learners — She should be able to generally know what foods and drinks are good for her.