Struggling to get your child to try new foods? If you’re feeling flustered about your picky eater, rest assured that it’s normal age-appropriate behaviour, with most children going through this phase at some time or another. So, you’re not alone! In fact, according to a report in the New York Times, the prevalence of picky eating during childhood varies significantly, with estimates ranging from five percent to over 25 per cent. This variability depends on how selective eating is defined.
One key reason is that picky eating is often centred around control and your child’s need to assert themselves in the world and be independent, explains Holistic Nutrition Practitioner, Melody Olivier. It’s also normal for little ones to be wary of new flavours and textures, however, it’s important to not get discouraged and continue offering your child healthy food choices at every meal as research has shown that extreme picky eating can prevent your child from getting the essential nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
So, what else can you do to encourage your picky eater to try new foods and get all the nutrients they need? Melody shares her top six ways, based on her personal experience dealing with children’s nutrition.
1 Offer a variety of flavours and textures
Encouraging children to have a sense of independence in their food choices can be a game-changer, especially with picky eaters, explains Melody. Many kids dislike certain textures or foods mixed together, so it's helpful to serve meals in a deconstructed manner. For instance, you can arrange the components of a salad on a platter, keeping each food group separate, and let your child pick a few items to put on their plate. Similarly, for the main course, consider serving a mezze-style platter with cooked pasta, meatballs, and sauce separately, allowing family members to assemble their own meals.
When introducing new foods or textures, it's beneficial to pair them with familiar favourites because it helps create a sense of comfort and familiarity around the new food, says Melody. Picky eaters often feel anxious or hesitant about trying unfamiliar foods, so offering them alongside something they already enjoy can help reduce their apprehension.
“If your child doesn't like the new food initially, remain neutral and avoid making a fuss, but offer it again at another meal. Research suggests that it may take up to 10 tries for a child to develop a liking for a particular food or texture, so don’t give up,” she adds.
Many picky eaters also find comfort in crunchy or chewy foods, as these can help soothe the nervous system. Fortunately, there are creative ways to transform softer foods into enticing options. Try these:
- Freeze drops of yoghurt on a tray to create melt-in-the-mouth buttons.
- Make frozen lollipops using fruit juices or creamy smoothies, adding healthy ingredients that can be disguised by the texture and other flavours.
These simple, yet inventive ideas can make mealtimes more enjoyable and encourage picky eaters to explore new tastes and textures.
2 Make mealtimes enjoyable
If you want your kids to relax around food, it’s important to ensure that mealtimes are something to look forward to. “Prepare and serve healthy meals, but don’t negotiate,” says Melody.
Because eating is a sociable experience, I encourage parents to allow their children to sit and eat at the family table where they can interact with everyone and where they can also see their siblings eating the same healthy food as them.
In a study published in Maternal & Child Nutrition researchers looked at how family mealtime routines affect children's picky eating habits. They observed 75 mothers with kids aged 2 to 4 during regular mealtimes at home, rating things like how structured the meal was, the atmosphere, and the child's eating behaviours (like refusing food or eating fast).
They found that mealtime structure was a big deal for kids who were pickier eaters. Kids whose moms ate with them and had the same food were less likely to refuse food and easier to feed.
Also, when there were no distractions like TV or toys and when kids had some say in what they ate, they were less fussy. The study suggests that having structured mealtimes where the family eats together without distractions, while also letting kids have some control over what they eat, might help reduce picky eating behaviours.
It’s also a good idea to take full advantage of positive peer pressure as children are more inclined to eat the same foods as their friends and perhaps even try something new when together. “Look for opportunities where you can do this, such as on a play date or eating out at a restaurant with some friends,” advises Melody.
3 Adjust your expectations
Parents often have a certain expectation about how much their children should eat during meals. But it's important to remember that a toddler's stomach is only about the size of their clenched fist. So, it's unrealistic to expect them to finish a large portion of food every time, explains Melody.
Forget what your parents told you about eating everything on your plate. letting your child have some say in how much of each food they want on their plate not only gives them a sense of autonomy but also helps them learn to recognise their hunger and fullness cues, thus practising intuitive eating.
It's completely normal for toddlers to have strong dislikes and preferences when it comes to food, and these preferences can change frequently! As parents our job is to get creative and find new ways to present food to them.
Stuck on snack ideas? Try this delicious Berrylicious Yoghurt Bark recipe your child will love. Cold, fruity, naturally sweet and creamy, your kids will fall in love with this sweet (yet super healthy) pink treat and be none the wiser to their intake of 50 superfoods that you'll find in Natures Nutrition Kiddies 50 Organic Superfoods Drink Mix which has a range of superfoods, along with added omegas, buffered vitamin C and LactoSpore® probiotics for healthy, growing bodies.
Berrylicious Yoghurt Bark Recipe
- 2 cups Greek yoghurt or coconut yoghurt
- 2 tsp Kiddies 50 Organic Superfoods Drink Mix in Berry Blast
- 1/2 cup berries of choice
- 1 tbsp desiccated coconut
- Optional - 2 tsp honey
- Line a sheet pan with baking paper.
- Mix the Greek yoghurt with your Nature's Nutrition Berry Blast before spreading it out on the sheet pan in a single layer.
- If you want the pink and white swirl, keep aside half a cup of your plain yoghurt and swirl it into your pink yoghurt mix using a spoon.
- Taste the mixture to see if you need additional sweetness, and if so, mix in a teaspoon or two of honey.
- Top with berries and some desiccated coconut before freezing for at least four hours or until its hard.
- Once ready, cut them up however you prefer - triangles, squares, rectangles or a mix! Store in a freezer-safe bag in the freezer and enjoy for up to three months.
4 Let your child experiment with food and make
(a little) mess!
Melody believes that allowing children to help in the kitchen is a fun way for them to learn to enjoy food. They can sieve, pour, measure, mix and create, depending on their age. Having a little veggie garden where your child can pick veggies for part of their meal is also a wonderful way to get them involved in the creation of meals and for them to understand where food comes from, she adds.
Children who have helped to prepare a meal are more inclined to eat the food as they have been a part of the process, and the food becomes their “creation”.
Next time you're in the kitchen, get the kids to help with:
- Mixing ingredients for a salad or baked goods.
- Washing fruits and vegetables under adult supervision.
- Assembling their own pizza or sandwich with pre-prepared ingredients.
5 Aim to serve fruits and veggies at every meal
Navigating picky eating habits can be challenging, especially when it comes to incorporating fruits and veggies into your child's diet. However, despite the struggle, it's crucial to make room for these nutritious options on your child's plate at every meal.
Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fibre and they provide the following benefits:
- They provide dietary fibre, which aids in digestion, prevents constipation, and promotes overall gut health.
- Many fruits and veggies contain immune-boosting nutrients like vitamin C and zinc, helping children fight off infections and illnesses.
- Incorporating plenty of fruits and vegetables into a child's diet can help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of obesity.
- Fruits and vegetables have high water content, contributing to hydration and supporting overall hydration needs, especially important for active children.
“Children often prefer raw, crunchy vegetables to cooked vegetables so try and offer a rainbow assortment of raw veg such as carrot batons, baby corn, raw cauliflower and halved cherry tomatoes on a platter and let your child select what they want from the assortment,” suggests Melody. Try serving the foods they’re a bit more reluctant to try with their favourite sauces or dips such as hummus, mayonnaise and cream cheese.
The same applies to fruit. Melody advises making platters of halved grapes, banana, sliced apple (peel the skin if need be), orange segments and berries. Have a bowl of yoghurt that they can dip their fruit into for added fun (and nutrition!)
Good to remember…
A child’s food preferences can change from day to day so be patient and continue to offer your child a variety of fruit and vegetables every day, not just the type they like, advises Melody. Don’t worry if your child eats just a small amount or none at all – just keep serving that fruit or vegetable as often as possible and be positive about it as you serve it.
If you don’t succeed, don’t fret – simply try again. Some children may need to be presented with a new food several times, up to 10 times or more, before they’ll try it! The goal is to make mealtime a positive experience and any time your child tries something, consider it a win.
6 Fill in nutritional gaps
Fruits and vegetables are vital for children as they provide essential nutrients like minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants, crucial for a robust immune system and proper growth. However, picky eaters often miss out on these nutrients by limiting their intake of fruits and veggies, potentially leading to nutritional gaps.
To address this, Melody recommends a nutritional supplement like Nature's Nutrition Kiddies 50 Organic Superfoods Drink Mix. This supplement offers a wide array of organic superfoods, providing a convenient way to fill any nutritional gaps in a child's diet. Unlike synthetic vitamins, this mix contains bioidentical, plant-based compounds that are easily absorbed by the body.
With its vegan-friendly, dairy-free probiotic, high-fibre, and low-calorie formula, it's a simple yet effective solution to ensure children get the nutrients they need for optimal health and development.