It’s common for kids to be fussy eaters. This behaviour typically appears during toddlerhood as a way for the little ones to assert their independence and gain control. And their eating habits can fluctuate depending on their growth and how active they are.
But while picky eating is a part of children’s development and is something that they will likely outgrow, it’s important not to let this bad habit get out of hand. Not only does it make meal times extremely stressful for the child and parents, it may put your kid at risk for nutrient deficiencies. With that being said, there are many strategies to encourage good eating habits but there’s nothing like reading fellow parents’ experiences of how they overcome those mealtime battles, to gain more perspective (and hope) – especially if you’re dealing with your own picky eater at home. Scroll through the gallery to read their stories!
“My daughter was a problem eater when she was young. She is highly sensitive to stimuli, especially to smell and taste, to the point where a lot of foods were just too much for her to handle. When she was a preschooler, she would literally burst into tears at the sight and/or smell of dinner on some nights.
What helped her most was gaining some control and taking emotion out of it. She started cooking with me, and that helped so much – the food wasn’t as overwhelming to her after she’d been exposed to it during the preparation process.
We also backed off and just made sure there was one thing at dinner she could/would eat, with no expectation of her trying anything else. But she wasn’t allowed to say ‘I hate this’ or ‘that looks yucky’. It was just ‘Yes, please’ or ‘No, thank you’ to each item offered.
After dinners became more relaxed and she could follow the ‘manners’ rule, our new rule became ‘You have to try one bite before you say ‘No, thank you’ to a food.’ The ‘No, thank you bite’ would often be microscopic. It often got spit out (which we told her in advance was okay to do). But at least it got tasted! I’d say something like, ‘Thanks for trying it. I guess you didn’t like it this time. Maybe next time! I hated avocados as a kid but now I love them. I hated bananas too, and I still do… But every so often I try them again just to see.’ For the record, I still hate them.
Slowly, ‘No, thank you’ bites quit getting spit out. Then the bites got bigger. Gradually we got to where she was eating probably 90% of what was served with little to no fuss. She still is a… quirky eater, but at least we’ve gotten to something manageable.” – 4_chickens via Reddit
Tip: The frustration that comes with your little one rejecting meticulously prepared meals is real. But keep your cool and avoid turning mealtimes into angst-filled events.
Involving the child in meal preparations
One way to get your child excited for meal times is to involve them. This ranges from letting them pick out different fruits and vegetables at the supermarket to having your little one participate in meal preparation. In this case, this child was highly sensitive to sights and smells, thus making her wary of the food that was prepared. Including her in the process helped to make mealtimes less overwhelming because she could see exactly what was going into each dish.
The ‘Polite One Bite’
This parent eased her little one into the ‘one bite’ rule (where the goal was to help her child start tasting the food and eventually like it) by first establishing that she should be able to reject the food in a polite manner. When a child understands that they have control over their eating situation, it increases the likelihood of them actively wanting to try new foods in the long run.
In this situation, the parents were able to implement the ‘one bite’ rule without pressuring their child after she eventually understood that she didn’t have to take a second mouthful if she didn’t want to. Some children require repeated exposure to food before even taking a bite. With patience, one mouthful will eventually turn into a fuss-free meal!
While giving fussy eating attention can sometimes encourage children to continue behaving in a similar manner, practice positive reinforcement by offering praise for their small efforts in the right direction. This parent also led by example by sharing relatable instances (like their shared dislike of avocados), and showed her child that she eventually took a liking to it after giving the food a shot.
“We started doing a ‘New foods’ poster with my son and when he fills it up with pictures of new foods, he can trade the completed poster for a toy. It’s been a few weeks and last night he asked me if we could have carrots for dinner tonight. I just search pictures of the food, let him pick the picture he likes, and print it out for him to cut and glue it onto the poster. The size of the picture depends on how ‘challenging’ or ‘new’ the food is. He’s been eating lots of things that he maybe ate when he was much younger (pre-picky phase) but started to refuse recently, or food that he had always refused.” – via Reddit
Tip: Use non-food based rewards
While there’s a longstanding debate on giving picky eaters rewards as an incentive to eat what’s prepared, studies have shown that offering non-food based rewards may help to increase children’s acceptance of fruits and veggies – avoid using food (such as desserts and candy) as a reward.
Parents can try using rewards such as a sticker chart, a toy, or the promise of fun activities to motivate picky eaters to finish their nutritious meals. In the abovementioned situation, this parent used a poster chart, complete with different sized pictures of foods to help their little one be more adventurous with his palette.
“With my five-year-old, we serve his dinner on plastic plates that have dividers (like the old school trays). On the majority of sections, I put things I know he’ll eat. Then one section is a small amount of what my husband and I are eating. I tell him he has to eat everything in that square even if he doesn’t like it. Last night, it was veggies, pork and potatoes – he still didn’t like the potatoes, but he liked the veggies and pork.
I just keep making him try things over and over. By doing this, we have discovered more things he’ll eat.
We also started letting him pick one meal for the family (it cannot be pizza, otherwise it’ll always be pizza). He surprised us the first time and picked tomato soup and grilled cheese. I had never served him tomato soup before so I’m not sure where he had it or heard of it.
Another thing I do is ask him what other kids pack in their lunch at school. There’s nothing like wanting what other kids have, to encourage new foods. One of his classmates had black bean tacos so I asked the mother where they were from and got some, and my son ate them up. If I had just got them randomly, that never would have worked.” – Genevaduke via Reddit
“My two kids were very picky eaters. However, I noticed that when we had people join us for meals, eating the same food my kids had previously rejected, then they were more likely to try it.
For example, cousin A comes over and she loves cucumber. Cue to her trying to eat all the cucumber and being told ‘no’. That makes the cucumber much more attractive to my kids, who then try it.
I’m not sure if you have access to some non picky kids but it definitely works.” – Chocolatephantom via Reddit
Tip: Use their peers as encouragement
Don’t underestimate the power of peer influence. If your child is attending school, try asking them what they have in their lunchboxes or what they like to eat. Chances are, your child will be more willing to try a new food if they’ve seen their friend do it. While it may not convert them into less picky eaters straightaway, at least your child would have tried the dish without feeling like they were pressured into it by their parents.
Image credit: The Straits Times
“Can you see any trends with things your child doesn’t like – texture, type, etc.? For years, I thought I didn’t like cheese. Turns out, I don’t like sharp cheddar. I also thought I didn’t like salad. Turns out, I don’t like Caesar salad drowning in dressing – I do like it lightly dressed, along with many other types of salads.
My daughter apparently didn’t like pasta, but we found that she doesn’t like smooth pasta. We bought shells and bowties and penne pasta, and all is well. It’s hard to figure out when you have a three-year-old who’s not really good at explaining themselves clearly, but maybe you can try different types of the same thing and see if any of them go down easier. And seriously, watch how you call things. If you do eggs only one way, don’t refer to it as ‘eggs’, call it ‘easy-over’, ‘scrambled’ or ‘poached’ eggs so that the kid doesn’t mistakenly think ‘I don’t like eggs’ when really, they mean they don’t like eggs the way they’re commonly prepared in your house. We had this issue with my daughter thinking ‘meat’ was the proper name for ‘ground beef’ and freaking out whenever we had a different type of meat.” Via Reddit
Tip: Try different versions of the same thing
Parents with children who have strong aversion to specific textures or tastes should definitely try cooking or preparing the food in a new way. For example, if your child complains about tomatoes tasting mushy or slimy, try roasting or baking it to achieve a firmer texture. Chances are your child will come to enjoy this ‘new’ flavour.
Like how this parent shared, being specific in how you name each food can affect how your child feels about it. You may have tried preparing a certain food in a different way, but calling it in a similar manner may raise the same aversion to it.
Image credit: Cuisinebank