Dealing with picky eaters can be exhausting for both the parent and the child. One often finds that, growing children often go through phases where they hate the taste or texture of certain foods and absolutely refuse to eat them. Sometimes, they only want to eat a small number of specific foods, or they get easily distracted during mealtimes. At times despite your best effort, children will claim that they simply don’t feel like eating. Whatever their reasons, here are some tips to help your picky eater:

Respect your child

If they are not yet feeling hungry, don’t force a meal or snack just because it’s time to eat. Always serve them small portions to avoid overwhelming them and also to give them the opportunity to independently ask for more on their own.

Involve the child

Ensure to involve the child in deciding what to eat during meal times. Children enjoy feeling included in ‘grown’ up decisions. Talk to your child about making ingredient choices and planning for a balanced meal. You should also include them on the market or grocery shop visit as a fun activity. Involve them in meal preparation and let them do things like washing vegetables, pouring, and stirring. This might get them to be more open about trying new dishes they helped create.

Don’t use food as a reward

Threatening, bribing, scolding, yelling and punishing can only create or reinforce a power struggle over food between you. The child might also start associating mealtimes with anxiety and frustration or become less sensitive to his or her own hunger and fullness cues. Use praise and encouragement to help them develop positive food attitudes. Let your child know when food is about 10 to 20 minutes before it is ready to help them begin to shift focus to the eventual meal.

Eat together

In order to make mealtimes social and fun for the children ensure you make time to eat together as a family. Most young children have short attention spans, so you need to be both patient and realistic about how long you expect them to sit in one spot at the table. Avoid distractions like cell phones, toys, TV or other screens when it is time to eat.

Add new foods to their current favourites

You could do this by getting creative with veggies -puree zucchini, cauliflower, cucumbers or carrots and sneak them into spaghetti sauce, or stews and soups. You could also add new foods to old favourites without hiding them just by changing the flavour and textures and be playful with shapes. Offer a variety of healthy foods as snacks. Most children will automatically eat what they need, even if their appetite changes from day to day.

Set an example

This is because young children like to copy the things that others do – especially the people they love and look up to. Children listen to what we say, and they watch what we’re doing including how and what we eat. So if the goal is to get them to eat more veggies you better eat them too. Are you eating lots of fruits and veggies and high fibre foods every day? Do you choose the grilled chicken instead of the fried chicken when eating out? Do you look happier eating junk food? Practice what you preach.

Offer new foods at breakfast time

Endeavor to serve new foods during breakfast when your child is usually at their hungriest. They might warm up to it faster. Allow them the opportunity to make choices where appropriate like picking between two different vegetables. Encourage them to try at least a few bites of different foods at each meal. Serve drinks only after a main meal because too much milk or juice can affect your child’s appetite. If they do absolutely refuse certain foods or whole meals, let them make that choice.