Do you have a picky eater on your hands? Or maybe you are searching for helpful tactics to prevent picky eating in the future?
Children can become picky eaters for a variety of reasons. It’s important to understand that some children may be genetically predisposed to picky eating and some cases may require further discussion with your doctor or other licensed professionals. However, there are some things that parents can do at home to help mealtime be less stressful and encourage their children to try new foods. Make mealtime fun and combat picky eating by trying these three simple mealtime tips.
Let Your Kids Play with Their Food
It can take 8–15 exposures to a new food before your child is willing to try it. Exposing your child to a new food can start as small as looking at the food on the table or tolerating it on their plate. Let your child progress from looking at, touching, smelling, squishing, and even playing with new food as they explore and become more familiar with it.
While playing with real food lets your child explore with all their senses, it can be messy! Another great way to let your child explore new food is through imaginative play and playing with pretend food. The LeapFrog® Choppin’ Fun Learning Pot™ and the LeapFrog® Count-Along Basket & Scanner™ are great options for exposing your child to new healthy food choices without a huge mess.
Let your child practice chopping pretend veggies with the LeapFrog® Choppin’ Fun Learning Pot™. Four veggies are included, and they snap apart as your child cuts with the pretend knife and cutting board. The Choppin’ Fun Learning Pot™ counts and reads recipes that your child can follow along with as they pretend to cook just like you.
The LeapFrog® Count-Along Basket & Scanner™ lets your child scan a variety of foods and learn about their corresponding food groups, shapes, and colors. Eight play foods are included, and your little shopper can pull around the cart or transform it into a shopping basket. The Count-Along Basket & Scanner™ has a music and game mode to make learning about new foods especially fun and interactive.
Toys like these let your child learn through play, while also getting important food exposures and developing a positive relationship with new foods. Whether your child is playing with real or pretend food toys, be sure to talk about any new textures, colors, smells and food shapes.
Have Fun in the Kitchen
Meal prep may seem like a mundane task to an adult, but it can be a fun, new experience for young children. Let your child be a part of the process when you are preparing or cooking a meal at home.
Here are some ways you can let your child help in the kitchen:
Let them help wash and scrub produce
Give them the task of gathering food from the pantry or cupboards
Assist them with measuring and pouring ingredients using measuring cups and spoons
Let them use a vegetable peeler to peel fruits or veggies
Ask them to help mix or stir ingredients together in a bowl
Let them serve themselves from the main dish or help serve food to other family members
Seeing food in different forms (whole vs. cut or raw vs. cooked) will provide yet another opportunity for food exposure, while also letting your child feel more involved and in control of what they are eating. Letting them help during the food preparation process can be a fun way to teach your child about food and to get them excited about eating new and healthy foods.
Serve Food in Fun and Unique Ways
If your child is reluctant to try new foods or turns away entire food groups, try making the food look more fun and appealing to eat. You might not need to change much about the food to make it seem new, different, or fun to your child.
Try these tips for serving food in fun ways:
Use food cutters (or cookie cutters) to save time and easily cut food into kid-friendly shapes. Your child may not want to try a bite of a cucumber, but may love the idea of eating a cucumber “fish” as it swims into their mouth.
Stage food in a fun and unique way on their plate. Stand up broccoli to make a “broccoli forest” or make “apple boats” out of crescent shaped apple slices. Arrange food into fun shapes like a heart or star.
Make it a snack: serve small portions of your child’s favorite foods alongside new foods in a snack plate style meal or mini charcuterie board. Use a muffin tin or small cutting board to make it even more different and inviting for your child to try.
Serve the food in a way you haven’t before. Try cooking (or leaving raw), mashing, dicing, or slicing foods differently than you normally do. Serve the food with a sauce or dip your child already loves to make the new food more fun to try.
Serving food in fun ways makes it less intimidating for your child to try and will also lighten the mood at the table. Play along with your child as they point out the fun characters and scenes on their plate.
Summary: Tips for Combating Picky Eating
Picky eating can be a common battle for parents with young kids, but there are things you can do to help combat picky eating. Make mealtime fun by letting your kids play with their food, having fun in the kitchen, and serving food in fun and unique ways.
When mealtime is fun, your child will be less stressed and more excited about the food on their plate. Don’t worry if they don’t like or even taste the food every time you serve it, but instead focus on providing multiple food exposures and making positive associations with new and healthy food items to help prevent and even reverse picky eating tendencies.
Jessica is a blogger and mom of two who loves sharing all things motherhood! Her primary blogging interests include realistic toddler meal ideas and parenting hacks. Her website, pinecones-and-pacifiers.com, shares her life in motherhood plus tons of things she’s learned along the way from pregnancy to preschool life.