Children can be fussy eaters who refuse to try new foods and instead insist on eating a select few foods that they prefer. This can be a great source of stress for parents who are trying to establish healthy eating patterns in order to avoid issues such as obesity and eating disorders later in life.
What causes this “fussy” eating? Age, culture and personality can all contribute to your child refusing to eat new and healthy foods. In some cases, children experience tactile defensiveness which means having an adverse dislike of certain tastes or texture.
There are various strategies that can help your child accept a wider range of foods.
- Include healthy choices with their preferred foods. Children can be extremely stubborn, so eliminating their favorite foods and offering only healthy options is likely not going to work. Instead, prepare their favorite meals and offer a healthy choice on the side. Pairing a healthy, undesirable, food with what they love will create positive feelings toward the healthy stuff.
- Make foods fun. Children are automatically attracted to anything that seems fun and exciting. Try to peak their attention with new foods by offering healthy snacks on tiny dishes – it may make the experience feel like play. You can also have your little one help in preparing the meal or snack, allowing them an opportunity to connect with the healthier options.
- Model good eating behaviors. Children learn from their parents so don’t restrict yourself to a narrow range of foods. Your children will notice this and mimic your dietary preferences. Try to set a good example and eat a variety of foods in front of your child. It will motivate them to do the same.
- Allow your child to graze. Children tend to graze constantly instead of sitting down and eating one big meal three times per day. You may be surprised how those little handfuls and snacks add up. Keep healthy snacks such as fruits and veggies on hand and ready for when your little one needs a quick food fix.
- Sneak in the healthy stuff. This is recommended as a last resort since it is important to teach children to eat healthy and not constantly trick them into doing so. However, it is possible to create a lot of kid-preferred meals using healthy and wholesome ingredients. For example, the child who insists on eating macaroni and cheese every meal will likely not notice if you make it with vegetable-based pasta.
You may be worried that your child is not eating enough because they are choosey in what they consume but children are very good at judging their hunger and fullness signals. Try to stay relaxed about mealtime and offer your child a wide variety of foods.
If you notice a change in your child’s weight or energy levels in relation to their picky eating habits, do not hesitate to contact your doctor or medical practitioner.