Food battles can often been a source of great stress for parents, especially if you have a picky eater on your hands. It may seem like your child lives on just one or two food choices. You may worry that your child will never grow with such minimalistic eating habits. But before you stress too much, know that picky eating behaviors can be overcome. Even the pickiest child will eventually come around to sampling new tastes and textures with a little creativity and patience. Before long, you may find your picky eater actually looks forward to trying new foods- imagine that!
Research suggests that it can take as many as fifteen to twenty exposures to a food before a child is willing to accept it. And ‘acceptance’ can have a broad meaning. A food may be ‘accepted’ by a child if they allow it to be placed on their plate, if they touch it, or if they take a small bite. That means your child may need to be exposed to a carrot 15-20 times before they even allow a small portion to share space on their plate. Although this can sound tedious, an exposure can be as simple as your child seeing you enjoy the food.
Being a role model of varied eating is one of the best ways to help your child overcome picky habits. Allow your child to see you eating the foods you hope they will eat, have the food available during meals, and place a small portion on your child’s plate if they allow it. But remember not to stress over the food or even call attention to it. If your child eats it, that’s great. If they don’t touch it, that’s okay as well. It still counts as exposure. Fighting with your child to eat a new food or bribing them to eat it can be stressful for a child. If your child starts to associate stress with new foods, they may become more resistance to eating a variety of foods- which is exactly what you are trying to avoid!
Get them in on the action
Some studies suggest that when children are involved in the food preparation process, they are more willing to consume the food. Depending on the age of your child, you can involve them in food selection and preparation in a number of ways. Start by taking your child with you to the store and allow him to select a new food to try. Or you could even flip through a cookbook and let your children select a recipe they would like to sample. Older children can help in the kitchen a well. Let them try their hand at washing and chopping produce, assembling ingredients, and assisting in the actual meal preparation when appropriate. You can take it one step further and start a garden where your children can watch their fruit and vegetable selections grown right before their own eyes. However you chose to do it, the more involved your child can be in the food selection and preparation, the more likely she will be to actually eat it.
Keep it fun
Trying new foods and eating a well balanced diet shouldn’t be stressful. The more fun you make it, the more willing your child will be to try it. One easy way to make meal preparation fun is to give your child his own colorful compartmentalized lunchbox, such as a Yumbox lunchbox. There’s something magical about opening a brightly colored box and discovering what’s inside. This is how your child will feel every time he sits down to a meal with his own special lunchbox. Opening it up to discover a box filled with his favorite foods, and a small sampling of new foods scattered within, can be a simple way to get him excited to eat.
One of the easiest ways to get your child to accept a new food is to make sure it is combined with familiar favorites. Fill the majority of the compartments in your child’s Yumbox lunchbox with foods you know they will eat and enjoy. Then, offer just one new food in small compartment. And remember, when it comes to kids, presentation is everything. The more appealing, colorful, and fun a new food looks, the more apt they are to give it a try. Get creative with your child’s meals by using food stamps on sandwich bread, placing foods in fun-shaped silicon cups, or trying your had at simple food art creations. With the compartmentalized Yumbox lunchboxes, the lunch creation options are endless. You can even allow your child to help fill his own lunchbox for an even greater chance of acceptance and variety at mealtime.
Contributed by Erin Palinski-Wade, Nutritionist, Speaker, Author