Got a picky eater? It can be frustrating when your child refuses to eat certain foods, but picky eaters are not uncommon. All children demonstrate some level of pickiness at some point. At our Las Vegas preschool and kindergarten, we see many picky eaters. Follow us on Facebook to learn more about the quality education in Las Vegas that we offer! For more information about our Las Vegas school programs, contact us!
If you are concerned about nutrition, seek an evaluation by your child’s healthcare provider. This may be something beyond common picky eating behavior. Fortunately, most children tend to grow out of this as they get older. But what are you, the parent, supposed to do to push through this finicky stage? Understanding the reasons for this behavior can help your child get over their picky eating. Learn how you can help your picky eater develop a healthy relationship with food!
It Tastes “Yucky”
Humans are biologically wired to prefer sweet foods over bitter foods; sweet things (like breast milk) mean nutrition and bitter things mean poison. For little picky eaters, the flavor of food is amplified because children actually have more taste buds than adults. We tend to lose taste buds as we get older. While their reactions to “yucky” foods might seem dramatic, children are just more sensitive to flavor. Your child could also be genetically extra sensitive to bitter foods. Yes, this is real. Research has shown that some kids are more sensitive to bitter flavors.
Picky Eaters Want Independence
Signs of picky eating start to show around one year old, when children are beginning to feed themselves. They become able to choose what they eat and how much they eat. One year is also the developmental stage when children are starting to walk, talk, and do much more on their own. This new sense of control gives children a desire to have more independence. So, some days they may eat a lot of everything, while they may not touch food at all on other days.
To help them become more interested in eating, get your picky eaters involved in meal preparations. Take advantage of this toddler independence! Have your little one assist with measuring, pouring, or stirring. Let your child help you put together a salad or mix up some pancake batter. Allow your child to choose how their food is arranged. Handling, smelling, and touching food can help your child become more comfortable with the idea eating it.
Parents Should Be Realistic
The challenge for parents is to be realistic about how much their child should be eating. At our Las Vegas daycare, we know that a toddler’s stomach is about the same size as their closed fist. It is unrealistic to expect a child to eat large amounts of food at each meal every day. Children that seem like picky eaters might just be expected to eat too much food.
Parents, continue to provide healthy foods at meals and snack times. Offer several healthy food choices right next to the foods you know your child likes. Encourage them to try it and avoid making special meals when they refuse to eat. Children should be responsible for what and how much they eat. This helps them learn how to eat when they are hungry and stop eating when they are full.
Familiarity With Foods is Key
Studies have shown that children need to be offered a new food as many as 10-15 times before they will eat it. Gently but frequently offer new kinds of foods next to familiar foods, and don’t be discouraged when they refuse. It is also important for parents to eat a variety of healthy foods. Research has found that children’s food preferences are linked to their parents’ food preferences. Not surprising, since we are more likely to prepare meals from foods we enjoy ourselves. This means your child will be more familiar with foods that they see you eating.
Children, especially picky eaters, are less willing to try something new if they don’t see their parents trying it. Make sure that your own choices are in line with the foods that you want your child to eat and enjoy. Parents should avoid showing disgust or disinterest when trying new foods. Just as children imitate the things you say and do, they are also likely to imitate your eating habits. At each meal, give your child a smaller portion of what the rest of the family is eating. These become familiar foods that your child will learn to like.
Don’t Force Kids to Eat
Forcing children to eat does not encourage healthy eating habits. Children are likely to eat less when they are being forced to eat. Research has shown that it can even worsen the behavior of picky eaters. If you force a child to eat, you may be teaching them to rely on others to tell them how much to eat and when they are full or hungry. This is harmful to a child’s future relationship with food. You should also avoid making deals with your child in exchange for eating. In the long run, these kinds of strategies don’t work. Children quickly learn to make deals for doing everything, and they’ll refuse to do anything unless there is a reward for it. Dangerous territory!