Being a picky eater has become somewhat of a staple in American childhoods, with up to an astonishing 50% of children nationwide being reported as picky eaters by their parents or caregivers. It can be frustrating to have to deal with fussy eating, especially when your kids say they want macaroni and cheese or chicken nuggets for the third time that week.
To understand the best ways to combat picky eating, we consulted Leah Roethel, a mom and registered dietitian who currently works at the Fargo VA and specializes in many types of nutrition therapy. Leah was recently a guest on our podcast, and gave us the inside scoop on how to deal with even the pickiest of eaters.
Variety is Key
One of the top pieces of advice that Leah gave is to offer a wide variety of foods to your children. By exposing your kids to a large variety of food on their plates, they are more likely to eat different things, even if it's just little bits at a time. Any progress is good progress! Remember, they eat 0% of what is on the plate, so simple exposure can make a world of difference.
While putting foods on the plate that your kids might not eat at first can seem like a waste, remember that you don’t have to create completely new meals every time! Introduce new foods with things that your child is comfortable with and likes to eat. Cooking a meal that you know your little one really likes and adding something that you are trying to expose them to can create a non-stressful eating environment and take away any potential pressure on your child to eat that new piece of food.
Include Kids in the Cooking Process
One thing Leah has tried that she finds very important and helpful is to have her children help her cook meals with her. When kids are included in the process of cooking a meal, as Leah says, “they actually then have pride and are more likely to actually try the food.” The cooking process is slowed down, but it can be fun for your child to be able to explore the kitchen and make something they are proud of.
Also, letting your kids occasionally pick what to have for dinner can be another way for them to feel important and in charge of what they are eating. Whenever Leah’s own kids pick what to eat, like pizza or tacos (two personal favorites of theirs!), it can be fun for them to be able to add their own things to what they are eating to bring involvement into the meal.
Make Mealtime Fun!
Another big point that Leah stresses is that you never want to pressure your child into eating something that they don’t want to or create a stressful environment for them. You should keep exposing them to foods until they actually want to try them out. This is why it’s important to keep meals fun for them! Use food stamps and cutters to make things into fun shapes or even make faces with the meal. Simple things like toothpicks stuck in pieces of food can also keep things fresh. Keeping things new and creative can foster a fun eating experience that won’t create pressure on the kids.
It’s also important to note that if you ever have serious concerns about nutrient deficiency in your child or if they aren’t meeting their growth milestones, reach out to your child’s doctor for guidance. With these tips, picky eating will be a thing of the past!
Learn more about nutrition for the family and creating healthy relationships with food by visiting the podcast show notes here or listening using the player below!