How to Prevent Picky Eating
Tips for avoiding tabletime tantrums
Not all children start out as picky eaters. Something happens along the way, usually between 2-3 years old, and suddenly they’re rejecting everything but nuggets and mac and cheese.
While we can’t completely prevent picky eating, there are some things you can do to help guide your child in the right direction.
Why do kids become picky eaters?
“My child used to eat anything I gave them and now they won’t try anything!” It’s a sentiment I hear a lot. It can be confusing and frustrating, but you aren’t alone. Research shows that 80% of parents say their kids have had or are currently in a stage of picky eating.
But why does it happen?
Pickiness usually pops up around the toddlerhood age–they’re more mobile and gaining more control of their bodies. Their brain begins recognizing some of the items they’d normally put in their mouths as unsafe. This is great for keeping our children safe and healthy, but unfortunately also extends to food.
Along with biological drives, our children also experience developmental changes in the toddlerhood stage. At this age, they are becoming more autonomous and able to recognize that their body is separate from everyone else’s. They want control over what goes in, around, on, and near their bodies.
Tips for Preventing Picky Eating
If you don’t have a picky eater yet, they’re likely young and just starting out. This is great news! There are lots of things within your control to support them in the transitions their bodies will soon be making.
Between the ages of 6-18 months, your baby’s flavor profile is being built. Think of it like a bank–every time you offer them new foods to try you are making a deposit. When they get older and start rejecting things that are unfamiliar to them, they will have a bank built up and their brain will make that connection more easily.
Try to offer 1-3 new foods each week, making sure to repeat foods you’ve already introduced. It’s going to take time for them to build a connection, so repetition is key here!
Keep Things Changing
The only thing that should stay the same is change. Getting stuck in the same food repetitions is going to keep your child in their comfort zone and likely result in picky eating.
You don’t need to make big changes every day! Try making small changes like flavors, dips, or side dishes with a main dish you know they love. Change the way you cook some of their favorite foods. This week you may bake it, next week serve it steamed. Change their noodle shape or brand, the type of plate or silverware they’re using, or even their spot at the table.
Keeping them on their toes will have them expecting something new at every mealtime and they won’t be able to settle into the same eating patterns.
When an unavoidable picky opportunity pops up, stay calm. Many times, picky eating will get worse when we become reactive. We get frustrated and their refusal to eat broccoli turns into skipping a meal and then refusing vegetables for a week.
Look at their nutrition from a 30,000-foot view. It’s not about one meal, it’s about their nutrition over the course of a week, month, or even a year.
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Don’t be reactive, be responsive. Reacting is very volatile, grasping at straws to pressure your child into eating.
Responsiveness is working with your child to help guide them back where they need to be to enjoy mealtimes and get them the nutrition they need.
One of the best things you can do to prevent picky eating is to focus on family meals. Bring every member of the family together during mealtimes and just enjoy the connection and relationship you’re building with your children.
This also gives you an opportunity to eat by example and demonstrate to your child how you want them to eat.
What if they become picky anyway?
Like I said before, there’s no way to guarantee you’ll avoid the picky stage. While these tips can help prevent picky eating, they can also help you reverse it!
No matter how difficult it may seem, take it one meal at a time–each one counts! You can take steps every day toward a path of peaceful mealtimes together.
And if you still feel stuck and you aren’t sure where to go, Table Talk is for you. It teaches you all the strategies and methods in place to help with picky eating and finally kick it to the curb.
Listen to my podcast episode about preventing picky eating here.
Here are some links of my other podcasts I talk about the Division of Responsibility episode, click here to listen! Starting solids podcast, click here. I also talk about my Table Talk program, click here to learn more and enroll!
Want my FREE picky eating guide? Click here to get instant access!
Looking for toys that support your kids’ age and development? Try Lovevery, click here to find a play kit that is just right for your little one in their current stage!
Loving the podcast but looking for more?
Head over to my Instagram account @nutrition.for.littles where I drop almost daily content helping you change the mealtime environment in your home (make sure to watch my stories where I teach and explain in more detail!)