If you've been reading our blog for a while now, you might be asking "haven't you already written a blog post about this?" to which we would answer "Why, yes! And good on you for noticing."
Also, that's why we're calling this 5 MORE strategies ... because, really, who couldn't use more strategies to help their kids practice tasting and eating more foods?
As a brief reminder (in case you don't want to read the whole post) some of the brilliant ideas we shared in that post included: (1) giving your kids terms to describe the foods they are eating (check out our 100 descriptive terms for mealtime to help with that); (2) starting small and ensuring that your portion sizes of new foods were not overwhelming; (3) giving new foods a special space, signaling to your kiddos that "this is something new, it's here for you to explore. You don't have to eat it."; (4) setting a good example by trying a new food yourself; and (5) involving your kids in dinner prep, which has been shown to encourage their curiosity.
These remain brilliant and useful (if we do say so ourselves) ideas for helping to tackle picky eating in your kids. But we had some other ideas, so decided we'd share those too!
Practice the Division of Responsibility
Created by child feeding expert Ellyn Satter, the division of responsibility states that grown-ups are in charge of deciding what food is offered, where it’s offered, and when—and children are in charge of deciding how much and what (of the foods offered) they will eat.
I know, it sounds counterintuitive: Let my kid decide if she wants to eat the food that she's already clearly indicated she doesn't want to eat? Yes. That's right. Here's why this works.
First, continuing to offer foods that your picky eater has already declined (maybe time and again) provides multiple food exposures. Kids don't have to eat a food in order to benefit from it. Especially when it comes to picky eaters. Sometimes, just having the food on the plate (or even at the table) is a win. Over time, your child's familiarity with the food will grow and with this comfort comes increased willingness to touch, smell, lick, bite, and even eat the food.
Secondly (and in my opinion this is equally, if not more, important) you establish and demonstrate trust in your child and their ability to listen to their hunger cues and you empower them to listen to those cues.
The transition to solid food can be a tricky time, because it is now that the process of us physically feeding our kids can make it harder for our kids to continue to hear and respond to their internal cues. This matters because overeating or eating out of boredom can happen we we stop eating only when hungry. So, empowering your kids to continue listening to their own hunger signals helps set them up for long-term success.
(But if you find yourself still worried, at least a bit (which is normal!), about what they are eating, focus on these 4 nutrients which should be a part of your toddler's diet.)
Pay Attention to Texture and Color, Not Just Flavor or Food
Think about the patterns and all the qualities of the foods your kids don't like (and the ones they do). Think about the texture, broad flavor profile (salty, sweet, etc), and colors of the food that your child won't eat and see if there are ways to align those qualities with the ones he does.
Many children prefer raw veggies to cooked one, so try introducing a small raw broccoli Florette instead of steamed or frozen peas instead of cooked. These small changes will build your child's confidence in tasting foods and often lead to a happier, more enthusiastic eater.
You can also use this strategy combined with food chaining. Although food chaining is technically a therapeutic strategy used to increase the variety of foods a child is willing to eat, it can benefit any picky eater and does not need to be administered by a trained professional (it won't necessarily solve all your problems, and, if you are under a feeding specialists care talk with them too!)
Food chaining: Move your child from eating a pretzel, to a veggie puff, to a veggie stick (not pictured ... because my kids ate them all!), to a carrot.
Make Just One Meal
Preparing a separate meal for your child after he or she rejects the original meal might promote picky eating. It's okay for you to tell your kids that there isn't another meal and they can choose from what is available. It might feel strange the first several times you do it, but it will help in the long-run.
This doesn't mean that you have to offer foods that are filled with items from their "NO WAY, I'M NOT EATING THAT!" list. In fact, it's not fair to put that kind of pressure on kids. Instead, make sure that there is an option you are ok with them eating and that you know they like. Make sure there is an option that they are learning to like, too, and may even be willing to try. (See point #1 about YOU deciding what is served?)
In addition to giving them confidence that they won't go hungry at mealtime (which incidentally helps them build trust in you), it will make it more likely that they will try something new eventually (and, they are less likely to ask for a snack at bedtime).
Lastly, it's a good idea to encourage your child to stay at the table for the designated mealtime — even if she doesn't eat. This signals to her that she's still welcome at the table and a member of the family.
Stick To Your Routine
Serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day. If you child chooses not to eat a meal, a regular snack time will offer an opportunity to eat nutritious food. Especially with young kids focusing on their food intake over the course of days (even weeks) is important because their day-to-day eating can naturally vary so much.
While milk or 100 percent juice are ok to serve with meals, it's also best to only offer water between meals and snacks. Allowing these calorie-dense drinks throughout the day can lead to a decrease in appetite at mealtime.
Be Patient, Especially with New Foods
This is the most annoying of our (now) 10 strategies to tackle picky eating ... Be Patient. Boring!
But seriously. Patience is probably the most critical, because like all things in parenting this is a marathon not a sprint. You want to encourage a life-long positive relationship with food, and that takes years.
Young children often touch or smell new foods first - they might even put tiny bits in their mouths and then take them back out again - before they take it any further. Your child might need repeated exposure to a new food (as many as 15 times, often more!) before he takes the first bite, let alone actually eats it.
Encourage your child by talking about a food's color, shape, aroma and texture — not whether it tastes good (or how good the food is for them), make sure that you serve something they will eat AND something they might not, and continue providing healthy choices. Do this consistently and your child will grow up with healthy food habits.
PS - We've created this FREE downloadable PDF with all 10 strategies to tackle your toddler's picky eating. Just thought you'd want to know.
PPS - Check out these tips on tackling picky eating in older children - which, let's be honest, are also applicable to younger kids too! You might also like to read about how using dips (yes, even ketchup!) can help coax picky eaters into tasting something new.