Updated: Nov 24, 2023
Does your child only seem to eat chicken nuggets and french fries? Maybe they only want to eat strawberries and yogurt? Perhaps they will only eat the orange veggie straws and the skin of a cucumber? Picky eating is something that most caregivers will experience at some point or another with their children and it is a normal part of your child’s development as they begin to exert their independence. Now, do we really care if your child refuses to eat a particular vegetable, such as spinach? No. We all have preferences and your child’s preferences should be respected as well. The challenge arises, however, when picky eating is long lasting and begins to impact your child’s ability to intake sufficient calories/nutrients or participate in family meals. Below are some simple ways that you can start to expand your child’s exposure to new foods and textures:
Incorporate choice of new foods.
Do you want to try corn or zucchini? Allowing your child to pick which foods they are going to try can increase their willingness to eat them. Take a walk through the grocery store together and look at all the options. If they pick something you’ve never tried before, go with it and learn to cook/prepare the food together!
Present new foods along with preferred foods.
The more familiar we are with something, the more often we like it. Frequently present a small piece of the new food on your child’s plate so that they recognize the look and smell of it. If your child enjoys condiments (e.g., ketchup, BBQ sauce, mustard, etc.), you can also try pairing the new food with it. My favourite is adding a little melted chocolate to any fruit! Consider having an extra bowl or plate where your child can place the new food if they are struggling to keep it on their own plate.
Same, but different.
Consider what foods your child is already eating. Are there other foods that have a similar texture or appearance? If your child will eat cucumbers, they might also enjoy zucchini. If your child likes pasta, they might also eat egg noodles.
Work up to eating.
Actually eating a new food can be a big step for someone who might be apprehensive to the idea. Start with tolerating the new food on the plate with no expectations to touch or eat it. After seeing it on the plate a few times, ask your child to touch it with their fork or finger (again, with no expectations to eat it). Work your way up to tasting the food by showing your child how they can bring it to their lips, touch it with their tongue, hold it in their mouth, and finally swallow a bite. Move through the steps at a pace that your child can handle. This might mean that you add a few more steps before actually tasting the food, or stay on a particular step for a couple of weeks – You know your child best!
Note. It is always recommended to discuss food selectivity with your family doctor to ensure there are no medical reasons behind your child’s behaviour.
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