Things we wish all parents knew about picky eating! Picky eater tips to remember as you navigate the normal challenges of feeding kids.
Today we want to share a few things we wish all parents knew about picky eating. Why? Because if you’re in the trenches of picky eating, you may be overwhelmed. And this is your friendly reminder that this struggle with kids is normal and also developmentally appropriate.
We’ve both certainly been there – and still have plenty of those days – with our kids. Here are some things to remember when you’re wondering if picky eating will ever end, and how to handle it in the meantime.
Interestingly, the fear of new foods – called neophobia – is thought to be evolutionarily protective, to prevent young kids from eating potentially dangerous foods. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to manage.
The truth is that you can do everything “right” and still have a picky eater. Claims to “prevent picky eating” aren’t helpful, so ignore any headlines trying to sell you on that idea.
Furthermore, there are many factors at play – plus strategies that have been shown to reduce picky eating, which we’ve listed below!
Parent Feeding Styles
The way parents and caregivers feed kids can be a significant factor in just how picky they become. We talk about this more in our book, The Plant-Based Baby and Toddler.
In general, being more responsive with feeding is associated with lower levels of picky eating while non-responsive is associated with higher. What does this mean?
Responsive feeding is an attentive way of feeding young kids, such as noticing hunger and fullness cues and responding appropriately. For example, offering food when they’re showing signs of hunger or interest in food, or asking them if they’re done, and removing their plate when they stop eating and begin playing with their food.
Non-responsive feeding is a way of feeding that’s less in-tune with what your children are signaling. This could include pressing them to eat when they’re not showing interest, or even using food as a reward system, which can backfire. Some research suggests that non-responsive feeding can increase the risk of overweight and obesity among children.
Parent Eating Styles
As we’ve all learned as our kids get older and start repeating things we say (for better or for worse), they also watch us eat.
So consider this: how do YOU eat?
Role modeling is a big influencer on how kids eat, including how picky they may be with their own diet. This is a good opportunity for you to try new foods and demonstrate diet diversity.
This also means refraining from making negative comments about specific foods, as not to influence your child’s personal opinion of said food.
Attitude is Everything
At mealtimes, simply maintaining a pleasant or neutral attitude makes a big difference in pickiness.
Meals should be enjoyable for everyone.
Pressuring kids to eat can make mealtime tough and unpleasant for both kids and adults.
Structure, Structure, Structure
If you’ve noticed that your kiddo is starting to graze between meals rather than eat their actual meals, you may have an opportunity to improve structure.
Much like sleep training, having a set time for meals and snacks can help encourage appetite.
If you’re able to offer meals and snacks to your kids around the same times every day, their bodies can learn to expect that food, and minimize snacking between.
Introduce new foods often and without the pressure to consume them.
We know this can be frustrating to offer the same foods they never touch, but it can take multiple attempts before a child even decides to try that food.
When adding a new food, make sure there are 1-2 foods offered alongside them that kids usually enjoy. This can help normalize new foods alongside already accepted ones. It’s also okay if they end up only eating the already accepted food.
See our post on Food Play Ideas for ways to present new foods that can help encourage trying new things.
Plus, exposure doesn’t just have to happen at the table. You can include your kids in cooking, grocery shopping, meal planning, and meal prep. You can even read with them about new foods to familiarize them.
Distracted eating can diminish appetite. Kids (and honestly most adults, too) aren’t great at multitasking, so it’s best not to put them in an environment where they’re supposed to eat but also have their attention elsewhere.
Turn off the TV, remove all screens from the table and sit together as often as possible. Family meal times without distraction have been shown to improve pickiness as well as the bond of family.
Those are the things we wish all parents knew about picky eating! Picky eating happens to the best of us. Keep these picky eater tips in mind when you’re navigating some of these very normal challenges of feeding kids.
Chime In: What else has helped you when your kids are being picky? Share below!
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I have a 3 year old and sitting still to eat a nice meal is for sure no easy task– even when it’s her favorite food. Two things I’ve found that have worked: getting her engaged in a conversation (i.e. we all have to share something that made us laugh or smile today — or I say something like “oh! I forgot to tell you! There was a squirrel in the back yard trying to eat our sunflowers! Let me tell you about it…”). If she’s into the conversation, she just eats without it being a big thing.
The second thing that works is linking eating to growing big and strong (which she’s really into). So she’ll do things like take a bite of food and then ask “Do you want to see how tall I am?” — then we’re always shocked and amazed and claim that that latest bite of rice and beans must have made her grow an inch. Is it silly? Yes. But it works and I will feign amazement for every bite as long as it produces clean plates. 🙂