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9 Tips to Help Your Picky Eater

It’s incredibly common for children to go through a picky eating phase, somewhere between ages 1-3. At this time, their energy needs decrease significantly and their autonomy increases. This combination can lead to stressful meals.

For most kids, this is only a temporary phase and there are some simple things you can do as a parent to help your picky eater expand their palate.

picky eater pushing away food and looking disgusted

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1. Implement the Division of Responsibility

If you’ve been following me for a while, you may be familiar with this concept. If you’re new, I’ve gone into it in much more detail here. In its most basic form, it breaks up the responsibilities of the parent and the child.

Parent’s Responsibilities:

Child’s Responsibilities:

  • If to eat
  • What to eat
  • How much they eat

Implementing these ideas helps to take the pressure off of you. You no longer need to worry about what or how much your child is eating. Your job is to make sure you are offering your child a wide variety of foods.

2. Expose, Expose, Expose

Your child can never try a food they aren’t offered. It’s your job to continuously expose your child to new foods. This can be done at meal time by offering a variety of foods or this can be done through food play. 

You may have heard that it takes a certain number of exposures before a child tries a food. The truth is, there’s no hard and fast rule for every child. What we do know is that the more a child is exposed to a food the more likely they are to eat it. It may take a picky eater more exposures than a child who is less picky. The key is to stick with it.

3. Set a Schedule

If your child is snacking on foods throughout the day, they won’t come to the table very hungry. Schedules do not need to be completely rigid, but should be predictable. This way if your child chooses to not eat at a meal or snack, you both know that more food is coming in the near future.

For younger kids, I recommend offering food every 2-3 hours (depending on naps). I provide sample schedules in my Family Meals Made Easy Course to help you come up with a schedule that works for you.

4. Make Food Fun

Sometimes adding some novelty to meals and snacks can make all the difference. Try incorporating new utensils or letting them use yours. Serve food in muffin liners, a muffin tin, or an ice cube tray. If your child can handle them safely, introduce food picks. Even if your child doesn’t try the food, they may be more willing to interact with it when it’s served in a new way.

5. Play With Your Food

One of the best ways to expose children to foods is through play. I post Fun with Food ideas every other Friday on instagram to help parents get ideas on ways they can incorporate food into their play.

6. Get Kids Involved

Whether it’s through a garden, grocery shopping, meal planning, or cooking, kids love to be involved. This is a great no-pressure way to expose kids to the food they are eating. Many kids will snack on foods they don’t usually eat while they are prepping. If you’re looking for ways to get your kids involved in the kitchen, I have a whole list of ideas for you!

7. Reduce Pressure

While forcing a child to take a bite may help in the short run, added pressure usually backfires in the long run. Instead, remind your child that the food is there when they are ready to try it, but they don’t need to try it right now. This puts them in charge of what they eat. When they do finally try a food, they are more likely to have a positive experience.

8. Model Behavior

If you want your kid to eat a wide variety of foods, eat a wide variety of foods in front of them. Your kids want to be just like you. Even if you don’t mention that you’re eating a salad, the fact that your child sees you eating a salad may make them want to try it in the future.

9. Get Help If You Need It

While picky eating is a common occurrence, for some kids it can be extreme. If your child has one or more of these signs, you may want to speak with your doctor about seeing a feeding specialist.

  • Your child eats <15-20 total foods
  • Your child is decreasing the number of foods they are eating without adding on any
  • Mealtime is stressful, resulting in tears
  • Your child won’t eat any foods from a food group (with the exception of vegetarianism)
  • Your gut is telling you that you need extra help

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