There’s nothing more frustrating than preparing a wholesome, delicious meal only to have it rejected by your child. While pickiness is to be expected in the early years, most parents hope their child will be eating what they prepare (at least most of the time) by the time they’re in elementary school. If your kiddo refuses to try new foods, you’re not alone. 35% of parents report that their kids are picky eaters. Read on to find out what to do if your child refuses to try new foods.
Take the morality out of food bravery
Sometimes, as parents, we want our kids to do things because they “should.” While a healthy, varied diet is important for kids’ growth, there’s nothing inherently good or bad about a child eating more or fewer foods. Do your best to resist pushing your child to try or like certain foods because you perceive them as “better” than others or because you worry about other people judging you by what is (or is not) on your kid’s plate.
Take them grocery shopping
While cooking with your kid is a great way to help them get more food-curious, taking them shopping can help even the most reluctant eater get excited. Bring them to the store and invite them to select a new food each week. Even if at first they choose less “healthy” options, celebrate them for tackling new tastes and textures. As time goes on and they get more adventurous, you can start guiding them towards new foods that are more in line with what you want them to be trying.
Serve deconstructed meals
Meals with a lot of ingredients can be overwhelming to kids that are intimidated by a variety of new tastes and textures. Instead of serving a pasta dish that’s already sauced or a salad that’s filled with toppings and already dressed, try to serve meals buffet style. Allowing your child to build their own taco, create their own salad, or choose how much sauce goes on their pasta can go a long way in getting them to try new things.
Introduce new foods, but always with a safe option
Don’t let your kid’s shy appetite keep you from prepping your favorite meals or trying out new recipes. Keep on cooking and serving what you want to cook and serve, and consider adding something familiar on the table too. You don’t want your child to feel backed into a corner or like they must eat a new food or go hungry, but consistent exposure to new dishes can spark curiosity over time.
Sometimes, picky eating is more than just picky eating. If you feel like your child’s list of acceptable foods is shrinking, that they have an extreme reaction to being around new foods, or that they’re really not getting the nutrition they need to grow, reach out to your child’s pediatrician. Sometimes, picky eating is the first sign of sensory issues or bigger-picture challenges.
Picky eating is an ongoing challenge for many families. While the frustration and concern is real, it’s important to remember that kids are more than what they will or won’t eat. Do your best to make mealtimes fun and relaxing, even if that means you have to shut off the part of your brain that takes note of what disappears from your child’s plate. Over time, many kids learn to enjoy trying new foods or, at least, develop a longer, more varied list of their favorites.