As a nanny and consultant, one of the most common parenting questions I get asked is a version of this:
"My child is an extremely picky eater. He'd be a very happy child if I allowed him to only eat chicken nuggets and ketchup. Mealtime has turned into a constant battle. How can I get him to eat other foods?"
Fortunately, throughout my years of experience, I've encountered my own share of picky eaters. There was Jenny who would only eat pasta and olive oil (and her mom expected me to drive a bowl of it to school so she would eat lunch every day!), Mikey who had insisted on eating macaroni and cheese for three weeks straight, breakfast, lunch and dinner (and his parents who let him!) and Henry, who drank hot chocolate with whipped cream as his drink of choice, with everything, to name a few. The good news is, a few days after I was called into help, these children all became former picky eaters and were willing and able to eat most anything sent their way.
So if you're dealing with a picky eater of your own, here's what you need to know.
At one point or another, most children go through a phase where they become ultra picky eaters and will only eat a select number of foods. Fortunately, for most kids this phase tends to pass quickly, but when it doesn't, mealtime can be a time of day that no one is looking forward to.
Before we get into how to introduce a variety of foods successfully to your child, you'll need to know that when looking at a child's menu, it's really important to look at it over the course of a week or two, rather than just a few days. Once you do this, you may realize that although your child favors a particular food choice, he really does have a more rounded menu then you originally thought.
But if you're finding that your child is truly eating nothing but mac-n-cheese, try these nanny tried and true tips:
- Offer a bite sized assortment. Sometimes it just takes providing a bunch of bite sized selections to your child to get him to try something new. Consider taking an ice cube tray and filling each compartment with colorful cut ups of foods like avocado, banana, cheese, cheerios and steamed sliced carrots.
- Introduce dips. Toddlers love to dip their foods. Cottage cheese, yogurt, cream cheese and peanut butter are great dipping options for sliced fruits and veggies.
- Cut it up. Sometimes food can intimidate a child. A child may be unwilling to take a bite out of a burger, but if it's cut up into bite sized pieces he may be willing to give it a taste, especially if it's served with dipping sauce (ketchup).
- Let them feed themselves. Kids will also be more likely to eat foods that they can manage on their own. Opt for finger foods, like diced chicken, that he can handle on his own.
- Plate taste. Kids are often more eager to eat what's on their parents plate then on their own. Allow your kids to try new foods from your plate. You may be surprised with their reaction.
- Turn Taking. Provide a small side of his current favorite, but insist that she try something new before she can eat it. Then encourage her to take turns with her favorite and whatever else is being served.
- Don't give up. It can take a child eight times of seeing a food on his plate before he may even try it, never mind acquire a taste for it. Offer new foods often, even if they were rejected the first time.
Chances are the phase will quickly pass, but in the meantime use these tips to encourage your child to eat a variety of foods. Variety is the spice of life.