How To Prevent Picky Eating Habits in Kids

Published on: October 10, 2021

Mealtimes are an important source of family time. Dietitian and picky eating expert, Karin, explains how eating together is more comfortable and stress-free when our child enjoys eating without being picky.

By Karin Biran

Six months ago, the parents of a beautiful 18-month-old girl came to see me for advice on their daughter’s picky eating. After seeing a great improvement, the mom has asked me to share their story. I’m happy to share this story and some tips to help those who are struggling to feed their kids with pleasure.

This couple’s daughter was smart, and she knew how to ask for what she wanted, though this was limited to 2-3 options, which made it hard for them to feed her. They wanted my help to expand her safe foods, to help her be more open to new foods, and to increase the variety of foods she enjoys eating.

This is what I hear from most parents who come to see me. They want their child to eat healthily, to be open to trying new foods, and enjoy mealtimes without any more stress. 

How does it happen? Why do some kids become picky?

The truth is we are all picky in some ways. Pickiness starts with ‘neo-phobia’, or being scared of trying something new. When our child is between 12-18 months old, they start to question what we offer, and are not willing to eat everything like they used to do before. This reaction we get from our child is new to us, and we don’t know exactly how to respond to it.

What do we think it means?

When our child makes a face or pushes the plate away, and is unwilling to try the food we put in front of them, we might think they don’t like the new food we’re offering. This makes us, as good and loving parents, not present this new food anymore. I believe my child knows what they like, and I want to offer only the liked foods. I want my child to be happy and eat well, so I prepare only those foods that will make them happy and full, and make them sleep well at night. To be honest, we all love it when our child eats the food we cook, so at first, we offer our child something we know they like to make sure they eat. But over time, this will become the only thing they will be willing to eat.

What happens next?

We become frustrated and don’t know how to make our child eat and try new dishes, and it doesn’t matter how yummy and healthy they are. This is the hardest part for most parents; mealtime becomes a stressful time. We sit down with our child knowing this will be a hard 30 minutes or more. We offer new foods, which get rejected, and we become disappointed. They start misbehaving at the table, want to watch TV while eating, come and go from the table, and don’t finish their food. As parents, we start worrying that our child is not getting all the nutrients needed.

How does it make us feel?

We don’t want to argue or want our child to go hungry, so we eventually offer them food we know they will eat. By the end of the meal, we are tired, and our child is tired, too. It would be perfect if we didn’t have to deal with it again, but the same thing happens at the next mealtime, 2-3 hours later, and then again and again, on repeat and with no end in sight. 

It’s usually at this point, when we feel mealtimes are becoming less and less pleasant, that we finally look for some help.

I’m happy to say that help is at hand! Here are a few things you can try to prevent pickiness from happening:

Try to offer as many foods as possible to your child before they turn one. Exposing a child to a variety of different food items will remove the fear of trying new dishes put in front of them.

Eat with your child from a very young age. Let your child see you eating and enjoying food from a young age, and they will want to copy you and try to eat whatever you eat.

Don’t think they don’t like something when they reject it. Keep offering the foods you want them to have. Research shows it may take between 10 and 30 times for a child to try the new foods you offer. 

Let your child play with their food. It’s important for a child to get to know a new food by touching, smelling, and licking it before putting it in their mouth. Don’t rush it. It can take time, but eventually they will do it. Parents need lots of patience for this to happen. 

Let them watch you cook. The process of touching, mixing, and seeing the ingredients go in the bowl together will help your child understand what is inside the dish and feel safer trying it.

Offer your child sweets once in a while. Sweets are yummy, they will love them, and by offering them, you are saying that sweets are okay. We know you will love them; we love them, and we want you to enjoy them in moderation. Don’t make your child feel sweets are bad for them because isn’t it confusing to say that something bad can taste so good? When we offer something sweet, we need to explain that it’s not the healthiest thing for us, but because it’s delicious, we can enjoy it once in a while.

The young girl I told you about turned two recently. She has started trying new foods, and she enjoys sitting at the table with her parents and eating from their plates. The variety of foods that she likes has grown, and the stress of sitting down at the table has gone away. Her parents are calm, happy, and enjoy mealtimes with her. Ultimately, this is the best feeling you can have—enjoying meal time with your loved ones. This is because food is an excuse to sit down together with your favorite people in the world.

Photos from Canva.

About the Author

Karin Biran, R.D, M.AN, is a registered and licensed dietitian with 8 years of professional experience in weight loss, treating picky eating, and helping and guiding families in creating a happy and healthy eating environment.

FB: Karin Biran Dietitian – Happy Eaters
Contact number: 09-55129153

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