As a baby, my child ate everything! As a toddler, they won’t eat anything!
If you relate to this, you’re not alone. Pickiness in the toddler and preschool years is a normal part of child development — albeit a very frustrating one — that almost every parent will face.
At Primrose schools, the Balanced Learning® curriculum includes a Balanced Menu of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. To encourage healthy habits, students eat family-style at a table together and learn age-appropriate table manners.
Of course, children are sometimes more willing to eat nutritious foods for teachers and other caregivers who are not named Mom or Dad. But parents can make progress with picky eaters, too. Read on for some strategies to expand your child’s palate and reduce struggles at mealtime.
5 Strategies for Successful Eating
- Have consistent meals at regularly scheduled times. This ensures that children know what to expect and are hungry at mealtimes.
- Try only one new food at a time so you don’t overwhelm your child. Pairing new foods with familiar foods helps — “today we’ll try asparagus, alongside the chicken and avocado you already like” — as does preparing a new food in a similar way to a liked food — zucchini noodles in spaghetti, for example.
- Be patient and persistent. It may take up to 15 times for a child to try a new food they’re offered. Keep trying!
- Keep the atmosphere relaxed at mealtime and be a good role model of eating a wide variety of foods.
- Don’t force food or fight over it. As the American Academy of Pediatrics explains: “It’s a parent’s responsibility to provide food and the child’s decision to eat it. Pressuring kids to eat or punishing them if they don’t can make them actively dislike foods they may otherwise like.”
7 Ideas to Make Eating Fun
- Create a play or story about eating different foods using your child’s favorite characters. Many Primrose classes have had great success using Primrose Friends to talk about their favorite vegetables when introducing new foods.
- Make a game out of grocery shopping. In the produce section, play I-Spy and talk about different colored fruits and vegetables. Let your child pick out a new veggie to try.
- Get your child involved in the kitchen. The more your little one is involved in choosing and preparing food, the more likely they are to try it. Try a Primrose Schools Snacktivity to get started.
- Play music in the background while cooking and eating. Music helps ease the mood for all family members at mealtimes.
- Have naming contests for new dishes or for different types of fruits and vegetables. Make up wacky stories to go along with the silly names. This helps keep food fun.
- Grow a garden together. Even if you use one pot, watching food grow can inspire a child to try new things. As the weather gets warmer, plan to grow seeds or a plant and eventually enjoy your harvest.
- Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes out of food. Your little one may find food more enticing if it’s in the shape of a star or animal. Be playful when preparing and eating food (a blueberry smiley face on top of pancakes is always a hit).
Transforming your picky eater into a courageous foodie is a process that won’t happen overnight. But if you’re consistently offering new, nutritious foods and keeping the atmosphere fun and relaxed, your child may surprise you by learning to eat and enjoy a wider variety of food.
For more on feeding your family, check out:
- Snacktivity: Yummy Bugs
- Veggies for Kids: Take Our Family Veggie Challenge!
- Healthy Foods That Keep Kids Hydrated
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