It’s not unusual for a child to be a picky eater at some stage during their life. Some of this can be put down to the underlying causes of fussy eating, affecting how their body reacts to certain foods. But the habits of the entire family can influence how long this phase continues for.
Sometimes, the little things that you do without even realising are encouraging your kids to be fussy with their food. The good news is that there are simple switches that can both prevent and overcome picky eating habits.
Watch the video below or keep reading to learn more about the habits that can make your child a picky eater.
3 Habits That Encourage A Picky Eater’s Behaviour
Adults eating separately to kids
I’m surprised how often this problem comes up! Unfortunately, it can’t always be a scenario where both parents sit down with the kids every night. Often, one parent will get home later from work, or have other commitments during the evening.
The problem with this is that exposure to different foods is one of the best ways to prevent fussy eating. If you’re not at the table eating foods they’re unfamiliar with, they’re much more likely to become picky eaters. But if you eat around them, they’re more likely to accept new foods over time.
This even works for babies – one study showed that babies that were given a serving of veg over a period of 8 days were more likely to accept vegetables afterward. Another found similar results with babies trying vegetables over a 10 day period. It also found that breastfed babies are more likely to accept vegetables. This is probably because everything that Mum eats goes through the breastmilk, including veggies.
The same goes for breakfast. You can’t expect your kids to sit down and eat a nutritious meal if you’re not! Mornings are busy, but it’s important to make time to sit down and eat with the kids at least some of the time.
The best part is that they don’t even have to eat it – it can be as easy as them seeing, smelling and touching different foods. So if you sit down with them at dinnertime and eat your vegetables, you’ll be helping your picky eater to overcome their issues.
Ready to change your picky eater’s habits? Try:
- Getting the kids involved with cooking different foods
- Letting them pick out different types of produce at the supermarket or farmers market each week
- Having a fruit bowl
- Including food on their plate even if they don’t eat it
- Encouraging them to lick, kiss or put food in their mouth, with no pressure to swallow it
- Having at least one adult at the table with the kids for breakfast and dinner whenever possible
Offering alternatives when kids won’t eat their dinner
As parents, we want to make sure our kids’ bellies are full. Unfortunately, this can lead us to offering our kids countless other options when they don’t want to eat something. But all this does is narrow their exposure to food and limit their food preferences. They learn that they’ll get something to eat anyway, so why should they try something new? A child is never going to be open to new and nutritious foods if we give them what they prefer all the time.
There are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if you really feel like a spicy curry, you can cook a more mild option for the kids. Or if your kids won’t eat steak, you can give them a different protein, but keep the vegetables the same. It’s ok to have a standard back-up option for a fussy child, as long as it’s nutritious and not too interesting. My daughter dislikes seafood, so I’ll substitute a boiled egg in when we’re having a fish dinner.
So how can you make this work for your family?
You decide what’s for dinner, and your kids can decide how much of it they want to eat. If you already have a picky eater in the family, include one or two components that they do like within each meal. For example, if you know they’ll eat rice and chicken, you can make chicken, rice and a variety of vegetables as a meal. But they don’t have to eat the veggies if they don’t like them. Force-feeding kids to eat foods they dislike does not work with fussy eating!
If they don’t eat dinner, there is no going for cereal or dessert. Breakfast is their next meal!
Not having boundaries around ‘snack time’
Even I fall into this trap sometimes! My daughter will graze on snacks all afternoon if I let her – a few blueberries, then a celery stick, then a few apricots. When she does this, she’s much more likely to refuse her dinner. If kids are full of snacks, they’re less motivated to eat any meal, let alone one with unfamiliar foods. Hungry kids are more likely to eat what’s in front of them.
There are a few ways to set boundaries around snack time. Firstly, focus on fresh, real food options for snacks. Fruit, veg, homemade dips, eggs, nuts and seeds are more likely to satisfy, but less likely to overfill a tummy before dinner.
Another good rule of thumb is to have one snack time between each meal, rather than ongoing snacking. Make the kids a substantial snack when they get home from school, then tell them that the kitchen is closed until dinner! This way they know to fill up their tummies with the snack in front of them.
This can depend on your child’s age and needs. Sometimes, they will come home starving after school because they’re going through a growth spurt. As long as it’s not affecting their dinner, it’s fine for them to eat a bit more.
Looking for snack ideas that won’t ruin a picky eater’s appetite at dinner? Download my 15 Quick And Healthy Snack Ideas For Kids here.