If your young child is a picky eater, it may seem frustrating to you. You might worry about him getting enough nutrients, or eating healthily. Here are some tips to manage a fussy eater that will help both you and your child.
Make meal times fun and relaxing
Young children are more likely to resist eating what is offered to them if they feel pressure or anxiety over it. Picky eating is a way your child can assert her independence and explore her world, so try to approach it with that in mind. Don’t watch over and worry about every little mouthful your child eats, and praise her for trying. This way, she will make positive associations with mealtimes.
Get your child involved
Part of fussy eating may be resolved when a child feels a sense of control or ownership over her food. Take your child grocery shopping and ask her to help you choose healthy food like fruits or vegetables. Here, she may be drawn to certain colors or textures that she enjoys. You can also ask for her help around mealtimes, such as setting the table.
Get friends involved
Even at an early age, your child’s friends can be a big influence in his life. If your child has a friend who is a more adventurous eater, invite him or her over for a meal. Resist making obvious comparisons between the two children, such as, “See? Clara likes carrots. Why don’t you?” Instead, sit back and let the natural dynamic of the two friends do its work. Even if your child doesn’t automatically become less of a picky eater, he will still see that trying different food doesn’t have to be a big deal.
Sometimes, your toddler or preschooler will start to eat a food, then decide he doesn’t like it. Try not to get frustrated or think of it as a step backwards. Instead, continue to expose your child to this food, and he may eventually feel comfortable enough to try it again.
You may also try “food chaining,” which is a strategy employed by some feeding clinics. With food chaining, you would encourage your child to try a different version of a food she already likes. For example, if he loves fried chicken, you might try introducing her to breaded chicken strips, then chicken drumsticks, then breaded vegetables. The key here is to expose her to foods with similar textures and/or flavors. Be patient here, too – this process may take several weeks.
It may also be tempting to offer bribes of unhealthy food that you know your child will eat. This can solve the immediate problem of hunger, but ultimately, it may condition your child to favor unhealthy food. Try to be patient and build upon things in a way that feels natural.
Ask your child’s preschool or daycare for advice
Preschools and daycares are very experienced in dealing with all kinds of eaters, from the fussy to the adventurous. Speak to your child’s preschool or daycare and ask for strategies you can use at home, and find out their own strategies for working with picky eaters.
When dealing with your fussy eater, it can feel very stressful. However, keeping mealtimes fun, getting your child and adventurous friends involved, being patient, and enlisting help when you need it are all strategies you can employ to make the process smoother for everyone.