If your child eats – and loves – everything that you put on their plate, consider yourself incredibly lucky. In fact, if your child even just tries everything that you put on their plate, you’ve gotten off easy.
Almost every child has a list of foods that they refuse to try, or dislike for no reason whatsoever.
Does your child love to eat ham and cheese sandwiches, but refuse to eat ham on a pizza?
Do they refuse to eat green peppers, simply because they are green, even though you have no trouble getting them to eat a salad?
Does the thought of consuming a single bite of any vegetable send your child into a panic?
These 4 ways to encourage your picky eater might help!
1. Make a “ three no-thank-you bites” rule
If your child has already determined that they “absolutely will not” like a food, then they are guaranteed to still feel that way after a single bite. In fact, it can take several tries at different meals for your child to change their mind about whether or not they like a new food.
So how can you overcome the hurdle of that first bite?
Try instituting a “three no-thank-you bite” rule that requires your child to try at least three bites of every food on their plate at every meal. Using this policy, your child will learn to expect to taste new things – even if they do not want to – and will ensure that their palate has an opportunity to potentially warm up to the new foods.
The name of this rule is partly derived from the number of bites expected from your child. However they are called “no-thank-you bites” for a reason: if your child is eating somewhere away from home, it would be impolite to refuse to try whatever is served for dinner.
Therefore this rule both helps your child acquire the taste for foods that they may otherwise refuse to try and to be polite when dining away from home.
2. Start small
Even when instituting a “no-thank-you bite” rule, it is important to avoid overwhelming your child with a plate piled high with foods they do not like.
This tip should be interpreted in one of two ways. First, when you are making something for dinner that you do not expect your child to be excited about, remember to include at least two things that you know they will eat.
This way they will not be as inclined to stubbornly dig in their heels and refuse to eat. They will also be able to start with whatever food they do not care for and finish the meal, which helps to ensure that they get enough to eat even if they do not enjoy everything served.
The second is to serve your child small portions of foods that they have not tried. Children reject new foods for completely indiscriminate reasons, and are more likely to react strongly to a large scoop than they are to a few bites. The smaller portion is less intimidating and – literally – easier for them to stomach.
3. Cut back on snacks and drinks before dinner
It goes without saying that children who eat snacks and drinks juice or milk during the afternoon and leading up to dinner will be less hungry than those who do not. Snacking can also have the unintended side effect of making it easier for your child to turn down new foods. If your child is hungry, the urge to eat can help to overcome any anxiety that they feel about trying new foods.
This does not mean that you should avoid all snacks;. Healthy snacks can account for as much as 10-15% of your child’s diet, and are an important component of a well-rounded diet. However, you may find it useful to establish a regular routine for snacks and meals.
This way your child will know when to expect a snack, and will know that if they decide not to have one that they will just have to wait until dinner.
4. Don’t force your child to eat when they are not hungry
Sometimes your child just won’t be hungry at dinnertime. Not making your child eat a meal that they are not hungry for is just as important as making sure that they have snacks to maintain a healthy eating schedule.
Some snacks – especially those rich in healthy proteins and fats – simply take longer to digest than others, and will not burn off as quickly as sugar snacks or a bowl of fruit. If you make your child eat when they simply do not want to, you may inadvertently inspire your child to get into the habit of stubbornly refusing food, even when they are hungry.
Furthermore, your child needs to learn to be attuned to their own needs and to know when they are full, and taking away their control of that process can actually decrease their awareness of their hunger and fullness cues.
What if your child refuses to eat simply because they do not want what is being served? In order to keep your child from believing that they are getting out of eating something they are not excited about, make sure that everyone in the family knows that nothing different will be offered if someone gets hungry later after skipping (or eating very little for) dinner.
Set aside a portion of the meal and let your child know that it will be waiting in the fridge when they are ready to eat. If your child gets hungry later, point them towards their waiting meal rather than allowing them to have other snacks or desserts.
While working through the growing pains of teaching a picky child to try new foods and acquire new tastes, you should remember that there will still be some foods that they simply will not like. This is perfectly natural, e.g your child’s refusal to eat green beans. But there are likely a few foods that you prefer to avoid as well.
The most important aspect of overcoming a picky eater is to instil the willingness to try new things, even if your child ultimately decides that they do not care for all of those foods.
At Harmony we provide nutritionally balanced meals that will help your child be at their very best. Want to take a look for yourself? Please contact us to schedule a meeting or book a tour to see if Harmony is the right fit for your child!