At a very early age most children work out something for themselves. They figure out that their lives are controlled by others; they get no say over what they wear, when they sleep, where they can play or what they can play with. The one thing they do have a say in is whether food exits out of the front or the back of their mouth! They realise they can choose whether they swallow or spit out.
Welcome to the picky eater.
It is quite likely that this stage is an evolutionary development to keep newly-independent children from being too adventurous with strange foods.
Great! But, how do we get them to eat what they are offered?
The main thing to do is relax. This is an issue most parents face at some point and fortunately the pickiness tends to lessen as a child grows older. It is also quite likely that the child’s diet is not as bad as it seems, and a few refused mouthfuls will have a negligible impact on the child’s overall nutrition anyway. Pressuring the child to eat simply reinforces their negative feelings.
Set clear and consistent food rules. Don’t try to bribe a picky eater (especially not with sweet alternatives). That will just escalate the struggle. Instead, focus on being clear, being consistent, encouraging good behaviour and knowing when to call it quits.
Show the way. Be a positive role model by eating healthy foods too. Children who eat with their family on a regular basis are less likely to develop poor eating habits. By sitting down together and getting rid of distractions (like TV and smartphones) everyone can focus.
Keep trying. Introduce only one new food at a time, and keep giving it to the child to taste every day for a couple of weeks. Studies show this can increase their liking for new foods. Sometimes altering the appearance of food - prettying it up – can help, or even renaming it to something quirky. Getting the child to help prepare the meal also raises the chances they will eat less selectively.
Let them make their own decisions. Don’t force children to eat everything on their plate. In general, people like a food less if they are forced to eat it. Don’t try to make children eat when they are not hungry either. Taking all the control backs a child into a corner. Let them have a say.
Your child’s eating habits won’t change overnight, but small steps every day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.