Managing picky eating in children
08 May, 2023
It may not seem like a big deal to prepare your picky eater a separate meal, but it’s important children eat widely so they get all the nutrients they need. And what if you have two or three fussy eaters? That’s a whole lot of stress and extra time in the kitchen. Let’s try to avoid that!
Experts say most children go through a stage of picky eating, showing strong preferences about what they eat and refusing to try new foods. It’s a way to exert their independence. Some develop into persistent picky eaters, eating only a few chosen foods, which can make it challenging to ensure they get all the nutrients and fibre they need to thrive.
So what’s the psychology of picky eaters? There are lots of reasons why kids become fussy eaters. They may copy behaviour they see at mealtimes, remember a bad experience with a particular food or dislike foods with a certain smell or texture. The list is endless!
The importance of addressing picky eating early
A recent study shows picky eating in early childhood can stick around for years, so it’s important to set up mealtimes to try to avoid picky eating right from the start. Like adults, children need to eat a wide variety of foods to meet their nutritional requirements. Some children will have legitimate food intolerances or allergies to work around and picky eating adds another layer of complexity.
A picky eater can impact the whole family, creating stress around social occasions such as eating out or packing picnics for family outings. Then there’s what to pack in school lunch boxes – and there are 13 years of school lunches! As children get older and want to have playdates at friend’s houses or go on school camps it can be difficult to make sure fussy eaters are eating enough.
Encouraging healthy eating in fussy eaters
Planning and mindfulness around food and mealtimes can help children establish good eating habits. Here are our top tips for fussy eaters:
- Be a positive role model. Children learn what sorts of foods are acceptable by watching other people eat, so model good eating patterns with your child. Ensure they see you eating a variety of healthy foods, such as colourful vegetables and fruit, protein and healthy carbohydrates.
- Ensure children are hungry at meal times. Limit snacking between meals. Children are more likely to eat their meal when they’re hungry and also more likely to try new foods.
- Help children to build up an appetite. Running around outside and being active will help children feel hungry. Their bodies will want to take in more food to replace the energy they have used up.
- Serve a variety of foods. Children may not eat everything every day, but ideally, they will eat a range of foods over a week. Ensure you include familiar foods they like.
- Keep offering new foods. Try to add small servings of new foods to their plate at each meal. Different shapes and textures can be enticing. It can take 10-20 times before children try a new food, so keep offering it and make sure they see how much you enjoy eating it.
- Make mealtimes relaxed. Make mealtimes relaxed occasions to catch up with family. Seeing siblings, peers and wider family trying new foods can also be helpful. Be encouraging but not pushy. Children are pretty good at knowing when they are full, so don’t force them to eat everything on their plate.
- Involve kids in food preparation. Take them to the fruit and veggie shop, grow tomatoes together, help them measure out ingredients or set the table. Being involved can entice children to taste what they have helped to make.
Healthy meal ideas for fussy eaters
How we at Edge Early Learning will encourage healthy eating habits
At Edge Early Learning, children come together at regular mealtimes. Our chefs ensure meals are nutritionally balanced and appealing to young children. Children are taken to wash their hands before sitting at tables. We serve a mix of brightly coloured fruit and vegetable finger foods, as well as meals where children are encouraged to use cutlery.
Seek professional help if needed
Sometimes picky eating is related to an underlying medical condition, such as an allergy, sensory issue or past trauma. If you are concerned about your child’s eating, speak to your child’s General Practitioner.