As parents, one of our biggest struggles is to get our kids to choose a wide variety of foods, especially ones that are also on the healthy spectrum. Sometimes when our kids don’t eat well and show a tendency towards picky eating, we worry this will always be the case, that they’ll grow up to be very picky adults or that we are failing at one of our biggest jobs as parents, that they get a wide variety of nutrition.

So what can we do to ensure our picky eater accepts a wide variety of healthy foods?

Remember picky eating is developmentally appropriate.

You may have had a great eater as a baby and then BAM! They hit 2 and suddenly decided that just about every food they embraced is now a no go zone. I know that happened with my kids. This is developmentally normal. A toddler doesn’t get to control much in their little lives, but if they eat a certain food is certainly something they can control. So you may find your toddler asserting their independence over their food.

Suspicion of new food is actually at the highest around 2 and 3 years old, so it may take a toddler many repeated experiences of seeing a certain food on their plate before they touch, lick or bite it. But it doesn’t mean you should stop offering it. But knowing this helps you understand though that they are just not ready to try it yet.

Teach kids about food.

Even toddlers can start to learn the importance of different types of food for their bodies. And you can increase the amount and type of information you provide as they get older and ask more questions. You can talk about nutrition and what different types of foods do for our bodies.

Picky eating can be so frustrating.  Here are our top tips for helping your child chose to eat healthy foods.

Get kids involved in food planning and preparation.

Kids love being involved in mealtimes. Get them involved in choosing some of the meals you make (teach them how to pick well-balanced meals) and even help cook them. Every week in my house as I organize our online food shopping I ask everyone to pick out one or 2 meals they’d like to eat. You can even have them come grocery shopping with you so that they help pick out all the meats, fruits and vegetables. It can be amazing how much more adventurous a kid can be when they are part of the process of mealtime.

Serve a variety of foods at mealtimes.

Each mealtime offer a variety of different food choices on the table. Make sure that the choices are well balanced. Let your child pick what they will eat. Role model picking a variety of different foods from the table yourself.

Don’t offer the different foods one at a time though. This can seem a bit like you are letting them refuse and offering an alternative.

Avoid nagging, begging or rewarding.

Our kids need to make decisions for themselves at mealtimes. They need to learn how to listen to their bodies. If we beg, reward or nag we are not encouraging them to do so. Yes, they might sometimes decide they won’t eat anything or not enough food. They may be hungry later and that’s okay. You can have scheduled nutritious snacks between meals.

Oftentimes kids are more likely to be picky eaters when they get pressure put on them about their meals. Kids eat best when we parents take a step back and follow their lead. This doesn’t’ mean we don’t set appropriate limits at the same time.

Good luck with working on your child’s eating habits. Just remember it takes time for our kids to move away from picky eating and to be more adventurous and accept new foods. The important thing for us as parents is to know we are providing them the food and giving them time to accept it and try it on their own!

If you need more help in regards to your child’s picky eating, please schedule a behavior consultation and we’ll be more than happy to help you with more tools.

Mylee Zschech, Child Behavior Coach