Picky Eating: What it is and How to Deal With it
It can be difficult to get children to eat fruits and vegetables or try new foods. Picky eating is normal at preschool ages and your child will eventually grow out of picking eating behaviours.
It is normal if your child:
Does not like new foods at first.
Asks for the same food time and time again.
Eats less food than before.
Eats a lot some days and other days only eats a little.
The Feeding Relationship
In order to help reduce picky eating behaviours in children, it is important to recognize that parents and children have different roles during mealtime.
Parents decide WHEN food is served. Offering meals and snacks at the same time each day increases the likelihood that children will come to the table hungry and try new foods.
Parents decide WHAT foods and drinks are served for meals and snacks. Prepare only one healthy family meal and avoid offering your child other options.
Parents decide WHERE food is served. Children will eat healthier meals when eating together at the table.
Children decide WHETHER OR NOT they will eat. Children will not eat until they are hungry. Do not pressure your child to eat if they are not hungry. If your child is hungry they will eat even if their favourite foods are not being served.
Children will choose HOW MUCH they are going to eat. Trust that your child knows when he or she is hungry or full.
*By establishing these roles, it will help your child become a healthy eater.*
What to Do About It
Children sometimes don't eat as well as you would like. Some children have a short list of foods they will eat and others simply refuse to try new foods. Read on to find strategies for common concerns about feeding picky eaters.
Be understanding if your child doesn't want to eat anymore or is not hungry.
Ask them to stay at the table with others until mealtime is over.
Won’t Try New Foods
Allow your child to look and experiment with new foods. Have them try "one bite".
Start with small amounts of new foods and pair them with accepted foods.
Offer new foods at the start of a meal. Children are more likely to try the new food when they are hungry.
Have your child get involved with meal preparation and picking a new food to try.
Snacks All Day and Not Hungry at Mealtime
Children can fill up very easily if they snack all day. Try offering healthy snacks and water 1-2 hours before meal times.
Avoid serving high fat foods such as chips, cookies and other baked goods as snacks, as they are low in nutrients and very filling.
Promote healthy physical activity throughout the day to build up an appetite.
Won’t Eat Specific Foods
Veggies - continue to offer vegetables in a colourful and tasty way! Let them pick which ones they want to try.
Meat - avoiding meat is not a concern as long as your child is getting the nutrients he or she needs from other foods. Eggs, beans, peas, lentils, seeds and tofu can take the place of meat. Try adding tofu to stir fry, peanut butter on whole grain crackers or carrot sticks dipped in hummus.
Milk - offer 125 ml (1/2 cup) of milk at meals and snacks. Offer yogurts, smoothies and cheese.
Try using milk instead of water in soups and hot cereals.
Only Eats 1-2 Foods
Continue offering different kinds of food on a regular basis. Favourite foods can change from day to day.
Serve the same food to the whole family, not separate meals. This will help you child to learn to eat a variety of foods.
Include accepted foods with new foods as part of the family meal.
Alberta Health Services. Mealtime tips for picky eating.
Dietitians of Canada (2014). Tips on Feeding Your Picky Toddler or Preschooler. Dietitians of Canada (2017). Take the fight out of food.
Alberta Health (2016) Healthy Eating and Active Living for your 1 to 4 years old.
For more information, please visit: www.unlockfood.ca