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How Do I Help My Picky Eater Try New Foods?

Parents often wonder if their child is a picky eater, which occurs for most children, or, if they have an anxiety-driven picky eating behavior. Typically, as a picky eater, the child has to try foods 15 or 20 times before deciding if they like them. Anxiety-driven picky eating occurs when the child refuses to even try certain food, eat foods only from a certain “list”, or reacts to trying certain foods with fear. This often causes concern that the child is not getting the nutrition they need. If you notice that eating is a scary or fearful experience for them, meet with your pediatrician or a nutritionist to talk about your concerns. In the meantime, here are 14 helpful tips for creating a more pleasurable eating experience for your child and your family.

Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters
1. Remember, there are no “good or bad” foods. The idea is to allow your child to be relaxed and open to all types of foods.
2. Avoid using food as a reward or to cope with difficult emotions. Try not to offer sweets as rewards. It allows your child to think sweets or dessert foods are better than other foods.
3. Children are much less likely to reject foods they helped prepare. Try making dinner with your children and allow them to clean vegetables, add ingredients, or stir the food.
4. Praise their efforts. Example; make a big deal of eating ‘Lisa’s’ sweet potatoes for dinner.
5. Allow your child to pick out fruits, vegetables, and other foods when grocery shopping. This keeps children engaged in the process and more likely to eat the foods they have selected.
6. Offer choices. Instead of asking “Do you want carrots for dinner?” trying asking “Would you like carrots or broccoli for dinner?”
7. Be family-friendly when planning your meals and snacks by not catering to your child. Instead, put together meals that include foods everyone can eat and enjoy.
8. Don’t be too concerned if your child doesn’t eat or drink the exact amounts offered at every meal. If you offer a variety of foods from each food group, his or her needs can be met over a few days or a week.
9. Keep eating time light and fun. Avoid negatively charged conversations or discussions at the dinner table. If meals are times for family arguments, your child may develop unhealthy attitudes toward food. Don’t just feed your child, be good company.
10. Let your children serve themselves and eat their way – fast or slow, a lot or a little, 1 or 2 foods. Let them eat in any order, even if they eat dessert first.
11. When introducing new foods to your picky eater, give them small portions and be patient with the process. A child may need to try a new food up to 20 times before they develop a taste for it.
12. Be visually creative and experiment with combinations. Try using cookie cutters or creating shapes and designs with foods to make them more appealing. Use dips and hummus to add flavor and healthy fats to the meal.
13. If you are concerned that your child is not getting enough calories or nutrients, find ways to add healthy fats. Shani Mara Breiter, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist for Kids & Teens, recommends adding organic butter, coconut oil, etc. to all foods. Try plant based vitamins, which absorbs easily, unlike synthetic vitamins.
14. Lastly, be a good food role model! Set the example by trying new foods yourself and describing the tastes, smells, and textures to your children.
By: Christine Izquierdo, Psy.D. & Sarah A. Haider, Psy.D.