It goes without saying that we want our children to enjoy a wide variety of delicious, fresh, healthy food choices that supply optimum nutrition for growth and development. In reality, meals for kids can prove tough in this department. Young children are notorious for refusing to try new foods, or only sticking to a few foods that do not provide enough nutritional variety.
However, with a bit of patience and a few strategic moves, we can beat the ‘picky eater’ routine and add new foods, colours, textures, and an adventurous sense of curiosity to mealtimes.
So, what can we do to ensure that we give our little ones the very best of all worlds, and avoid the pitfalls of too much screen time?
The number one strategy for getting your child to enjoy mealtimes and eat a variety of food is to chill out. Try not to expect too much, too soon. If you are worried about your child’s eating habits and get tense at mealtimes because they only want crackers and you are offering veggies, this tension will carry over to them. Be cool, calm, and collected, even though you might feel otherwise!
Start out small with the new food. Just a tiny mouthful or three peas is a lot less daunting for a child than being presented with a large bowl by an anxious parent. You can cultivate curiosity by providing a tiny portion of the new food, followed by a standard portion of what they do already like. Then, you can increase the new food and decrease the ‘accepted’ food very gradually.
We all know that being a parent isn’t easy, but you’ll have to master the art of parental patience when it comes to new foods, especially new healthy food. Children will often need to be exposed to a new food 10 – 15 times before they will try it and accept it. So take heart, and don’t give up after two or three tries. Keep going, you’ve got this!
If children are not particularly hungry, they will be unlikely to try a bite of something new. So, keep in between snacks small. Filling up on too many drinks and snacks for kids between meals can sabotage your ‘new food’ efforts.
Consider other factors other than taste. Children are often very sensitive to textures, and can be more concerned with a texture than a taste. If your child doesn’t like a particular food you’re trying to introduce, it might be too cold, smooth, oily, dry, or chunky for their liking. One way to get around this is to puree food, or make a delicious soup with new flavours, like this delicious Chilled Tomato Soup with Rooibos Tea. (You can leave out the curry powder, unless your child is a little older or is used to mild curry spice).
Allowing your toddler or child to be involved in choosing, growing and making food is a fantastic way to encourage their participation at mealtimes. Start at the grocery store, where you can ask your child to help choose foods, and put them in the trolley themselves. Letting your child help in food preparation, such as mixing ingredients in a bowl, or chopping soft vegetables like mushrooms with a butter knife really helps them feel involved. It creates a sense of pride and accomplishment that they were part of the process, and naturally they’re more likely to want to eat what they helped create.
Its worth observing the foods that your child always rejects. If they contain the same ingredients like milk, eggs or nuts you should perhaps consult your paediatrician about conducting a food allergies test. Children who have a food allergy might naturally reject these foods, which might be a reason why your child is doing this as well.
The key here is to ensure your child enjoys enriching experiences both on and off screen. So, use your natural instinct and judgement as a parent as to what is healthy and ‘right’ for them.
Are meal times with your toddler a war zone? They don’t have to be – find out how to transform your ‘picky eater’ into an adventurous mini-connoisseur!