Top expert tips for handling picky eaters
Deal with fussy eaters with this expert advice on getting your toddler to eat well for the nutrition they need
From the taste to the look of food - particularly vegetables - it can become quite the pickle when your toddler doesn't eat anything you put in front of them.
Fussy eating or more worryingly, food neophobia, is believed to begin in toddlerhood, and peak at around five years of age as part of normal development.
Linked to the development and contamination disgust which occurs between 20 months and six years, you can rest in the knowledge that it's very common to have a child fussy with food, according to University of Derby.
Reader in Emotion Science at the university, Dr Frances Maratos, shares her top tips for feeding with your own picky eater. We say, challenge accepted.
Promote healthy habits
Ensure fresh fruit is on display at home to promote healthy snacking.
Don’t let children snack before a main meal. For example, if you give them a snack 30 minutes before a meal then they will be more likely to ‘pick’ or show less interest in the meal time food.
Try to ensure that meal times are pleasant events, e.g. a time for the family to be together (and eat at a table if possible).
Three course meal
When possible, serve meals in courses. This doesn’t need to be fancy but could consist of cherry tomatoes, carrots, peppers and/or celery as a ‘starter’. This encourages toddlers and children to eat a wider variety of vegetables.
Always try to include fruit and vegetables in main meals such as carrots in spaghetti bolognese or sliced fruit with a small amount of custard for dessert.
Mix it up
Don’t use plates which encourage separation of different food. This encourages the idea of ‘contamination’.
Instead, ensure dishes such as spaghetti bolognese, chilli and rice are presented as mixed entities. If you do present food separately, then you will need to slowly start to address this (little by little).
Include their most disliked foods
If your toddler or child dislikes a food, try to ensure that a very small amount is included on their meal plate, but do not force them to eat it. Simply getting them used to the expectation of the food being on their plate is a start.
Keep exposing them to food
Do not worry if your child still refuses to eat particular food. Repeated exposure (without pressure to eat the food) is key. Additionally, most children do tend to grow out of picky fussy eating. What is essential is providing a safe, pleasant meal time experience.
Tell fruit and veg tales
Read stories about fruits and vegetables with your child to get them familiar with these foods in a safe, relaxed environment.
Don't add pressure
Don’t use pressure to encourage eating, as this creates anxiety which can exacerbate picky fussy eating.
Lead by example
Last, but not least, use modelling behaviour and positive reinforcement to demonstrate eating expectations. Indeed, be consistent with your expectations i.e. don’t expect your child to eat something you will not.
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