Tricky taste buds: strategies for coping with picky eaters
As parents, our job is to offer a variety of nutritious foods for our kids to eat. How that food is eaten … and how much, well, that’s up to your little one. Baby Wellness expert, Megan Garcia, shares six simple tips for managing picky eaters.
As your child begins to form opinions, you may notice a sudden dislike for certain textures or feel surprised when there’s a meltdown because one food is touching another. It’s ok. This behavior is normal. Toddlers have a knack for asserting what they want – or don’t want. And they like routine.
How picky eating develops
Researchers almost unanimously agree that exposure to different foods when children are young, increases how much these foods are liked from infancy through to childhood. Interestingly, exposure begins before birth.
During pregnancy and especially in the third trimester, your baby swallows a lot of amniotic fluid – by the time you’re 40 weeks pregnant, roughly a liter each day. This fluid is flavored by the food that you eat.
Once you begin breastfeeding, your baby continues to learn about flavors. Like amniotic fluid, breast milk carries the flavors of your own diet. As a result, breastfeeding enhances your baby’s acceptance of new foods. Formula-fed babies, on the other hand, are exposed to one uniform flavor throughout early infancy, which may limit what they’re willing to try once they begin solids.
Tips to entice your picky eater
- Eat what you want them to eat: Children are curious. They’re going to want to try the foods that they see you snacking on. Lead by example.
- Consider getting rid of “dessert”: The idea of a sweet treat after dinner doesn’t need to exist. Many times, a child will hold out for dessert or eat more sweets than real food. Don’t blame your child. By the age of 4, your little one’s brain burns through twice as much sugar as an adult brain. They’re hardwired to prefer sweets – so it’s up to you to offer sweet foods that are nutritious such as starchy vegetables and fruit that are rich in antioxidants.
- Offer coconut water kefir: One of my most beloved tips for picky eaters is to begin offering coconut water kefir, a fermented drink made with the juice from the young coconut. Coconut water kefir is sour and it’s filled good bacteria that support gut and immune health. If the taste of coconut water kefir makes your little one gag, mix it with a favorite juice. Each time you offer kefir, gradually decrease the amount of juice that you use.
- Hide it: There’s nothing wrong in packing a smoothie with green plant foods. Even if the smoothie is sweetened with banana, the flavor profile of the green stuff will come through and help to acclimate your child’s palate to a range flavors.
- Let them help and make food fun: Use cookie cutters to turn cheese into fun animal shapes. Prepare fruit and vegetables in unusual ways such as thin slices of peeled apple, sweet pepper bracelets, or broccoli stalks instead of tops. Cut food with a wavy chopper – papaya, cucumbers, apples, carrots and even hard-boiled eggs are fun to cut and eat when they’re wavy!
- Be patient. Before the age of 1, you usually only need to offer a food once or twice – and too much of one food will decrease how much your child likes it in the future. But once your baby reaches toddlerhood, you might need to offer a single food 10 – 20 times before it’s accepted.