If you've got a picky eater, try these tips to prevent mealtime tantrums.
Try Role Modeling
Setting a good example is one surefire way to get your toddler to stop picky eating. During those formative years, toddlers are very observant, and your food choices influence theirs. They form their food preferences by observing your eating behaviours and are likely to accept foods they see you eating. Enjoy eating lots of veggies, fruits and other healthy foods and let your toddler see you eating them. It will pique their interest and boost their confidence to accept or try new foods.
A lot of patience is needed when you have a picky eater under your roof. Apart from potty training, pickiness is one challenge that will try you as a parent. But all your toddler needs at this time is your love and support. Research has shown that pressuring your toddler to eat foods they don't like only worsens the habit. Moreover, you will have to expose your toddler to certain new foods repeatedly before they take their first bite. They will usually touch and smell it or puts bits of it in their mouths and spit it out - all the more reason you need patience. Pickiness isn't a permanent habit anyway. Most toddlers outgrow it as they grow up. So hang in there!
When dealing with a picky eater, you must ensure that the mealtime environment is right. Make mealtimes fun, and don't be pushy. Toddlers who feel they are under pressure tend to push away food. Let your toddler touch and taste food to get familiar with it. If it takes them a long time to finish eating a particular food, give them some words of encouragement. In addition, you can bring in some excitement by dishing out their meals in colourful or fun-shaped containers. Plus, do not make mealtimes longer than 30 minutes; picky eaters lose interest in food when they keep long in their highchair.
Sometimes, the appearance or texture of food can contribute to your toddler's pickiness. So get your creative juices flowing when preparing and dishing out meals. For instance, bringing in some colour when garnishing new foods you want to introduce to your toddler will excite them to eat. That said, sprinkling some spinach leaves on a colourful smoothie can be a great way to start your toddler on leafy greens. Alternatively, you can chop veggies like peppers and carrots and add them to soups and pasta. And don't forget to dish out food in colourful and fun-shaped dishes.
You must feed your toddler in small chunks if you start them on new foods - large ones will only put them off! Plus, you will want to serve these foods alongside some of their faves. For instance, you can give them green peas with their favourite pasta. And while feeding them, engage them in a talk about the food's smell, colour, shape and texture to encourage them to eat. Once they have shown a likeness with smaller chunks, you can beef up their intake during their next meal until you finally start them on the regular serving size.
Keep Distractions At Bay
The last thing a picky eater needs are distractions while they are eating. Switch off the TV, and put aside toys, books and electronics during mealtimes. Also, ensure your toddler has meals in the dining room, not the living room.
If you want to improve your toddler's acceptance of foods, using desserts or treats such as sweets and ice cream as a reward is a no-no. Such foods are addictive and unhealthy. However, non-food rewards such as a pat on the back, verbal praise, more playtime, toys, stationery, and games are best.
Know Your Toddler's Preferences
You have to recognize your toddler's texture and taste preferences. It will give you a fair idea of what new foods they will accept. For instance, if your toddler prefers crunchy foods like quinoa chips and brown rice cakes, they may like foods with similar textures like raw veggies better than veggies that are soft and cooked. Similarly, if they prefer softer foods like bananas, they may go in for foods with soft textures like pasta and noodles.
Keep Trying Something New
According to research, a toddler needs at least 15 exposures to a new food before accepting it. The best way to introduce new foods is to serve them (in small amounts but repeatedly) with foods your toddler likes and is already familiar with - acceptance is 90% likely to occur. Besides, do not force them if they reject it the first time. Try again until your toddler begins to show signs of acceptance.
Stop Unhealthy Snacking
The more snacks your toddler has, the less hungry they will be during mealtimes. The solution is to offer snacks and meals at regular intervals (at least every 2 to 3 hours). That way, your toddler will have an empty stomach for the next meal. Also, serve beverages and soups after the main meal and not before because they are very filling.
Use Mindful Eating Techniques
Teach your picky eater to be conscious and attentive to hunger pangs and feelings of fullness. The more in tune a toddler is with these feelings, the more willing he or she is to eat - rejection is less likely to occur. You can do this by asking them questions during mealtimes: "Can you take another bite?" or "Do you like the taste of the food?" This will give you an idea of how hungry your toddler is and if they are enjoying the meal.
Stop feeding your toddler when they give you a hint that they are full.
Eating In A Group Helps
Your toddler's friends and other siblings can influence their eating habits. Solo eating only worsens pickiness. Sometimes, the motivation to eat new foods comes from eating with children in your toddler's preschool who are more eager eaters. Research has proven that children will more likely try something new when they see other children eating. So next time you have a cookout, invite your toddler's friends over. And never turn down party invites from your toddler's friends.
Plan Meals With Them
To pique your toddler's interest in food, rope them into meal planning. Put together the menu, shop for food and cook with them. Allow them to choose food items when you go doing the groceries. Children as early as 18 months or two years can start cooking, so give them age-appropriate tasks like peeling or washing food items. According to research, toddlers who help prepare meals are more likely to eat foods like veggies than those who do not. Besides, you will be teaching them an essential life skill - learning to cook.
Rule Out All Other Possible Causes
Before you try to find solutions to your toddler's pickiness, ensure the cause is not an allergy or food intolerance. You can quickly tell when a toddler has an allergy because symptoms are so easy to identify - a rash, itching, sneezing, etc. Food intolerances are, however, hard to pinpoint and will need some proactiveness on your part to identify them. Constantly monitor your toddler at mealtimes to find out if there are any foods they reject when you serve them. Ask them if they experience nausea, bloating and tummy upset - jot them down. Toddlers may refuse to eat these foods because of food intolerances. Once there is a possibility of an allergy or intolerance, take them to see a pediatrician.
Finally, if all else fails, a visit to a specialist is long overdue.
By Nana Ama Afoa Osae I Writer I GreatWonderful Team
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