The most common concern I hear from parents of picky eaters is that their child used to be a good eater up to age 2 and then things started to change. "He used to eat everything and loved veggies, now he refuses to even try."
This causes a lot of stress for parents and can have a negative effect on family relationships.
My advice for parents is to expect and be prepared for their good eater to start asserting their food preferences around 2 to 3 years of age. Picky eating is common in 2-6 year old's and instead of being reactive and surprised by the behaviour, I want to show you how to be proactive and ready for it.
But first, lets look at the 3 things that can make picky eating worse: These are very common coping strategies that parents adopt without even realising. This is what I call "being in reactive mode".
1) Pressure to eat. This is a big one and absolutely crucial to understand. Any pressure to eat will have the opposite desired effect. Maintain a poker face at mealtimes and allow your child to choose what and how much they eat. This is a hard one but absolutely pays off!
2) "Giving in" and only offering preferred foods. If your child is not exposed to a new or disliked food, they will never learn to like it.
3) Allowing "grazing" and snacking all day long. This is another big cause of mealtime battles. When children snack all day long they will not learn to listen to their hunger and fullness cues and not eat well at mealtimes.
Now that we know what doesn't help - let's look at the strategies that do: These are called "being in proactive mode":
1) Offer, offer, offer without pressure. Cook and serve the food that you like to eat as a family. Offer it to your fussy eater with not pressure to eat. The next bit is important - offer at least 2 foods that you know your child will eat. This can be rice, pasta, bread, chicken nuggets and the list goes on. Your child will have the option to choose from these while also being exposed to family foods. Whatever you do, don't resort to cooking separate meals or being a short order cook.
2) Eat the foods you want your child to eat and comment on what it feels like, smells like, looks it and smells like. Do this in a neutral tone, creating curiousity in your child. For example: This broccoli is bumpy and squishy and looks like a tree! By doing this you are making the food more familiar and helping your child to become more confident to try it when they are ready.
3) Maintain a positive mealtime environment no matter what. Does your child have a positive association with mealtimes? If they don't, work on letting go of some negative mealtime habits like pressure to eat or bribery to try foods. When children happily come to the table you are one step closer to helping them learn to like new foods.
Over the next 3 weeks I will dive deeper into these three strategies, breaking it down so you feel empowered to implement it with ease.
Change doesn't happen overnight but when you are consistent in your approach you'll reap the rewards of happier mealtimes.