Ever called your kid a picky eater? Then you’re in exactly the right place.
I sat down for a conversation with Alyssa Miller, dietitian and mom behind the popular Instagram account, @Nutrition.for.littles. We chatted about - you guessed it - all things picky eaters.
Food and sleep are two of the most important aspects of a child’s health. It’s what makes these two areas so easy to get stressed about as parents. If our kids aren’t sleeping well or eating well, we know it’s harder for them to live their healthiest life.
But a lot of the habits we’ve formed to get our kids to eat – begging, demanding, even praising – are inadvertently adding to the problem! And that doesn’t even touch on other pressure tactics like guilt (“I spent an hour on this, you owe it to me to eat it”) or food waste (“Chicken is expensive, you need to eat it”).
So if pressure tactics are out, what are our options as parents? We discussed Alyssa’s three main tips to help you get your kids to eat what you make for them.
If you’re ready for practical strategies to help your picky eater become more adventurous, keep reading!
>>Watch this blog on my Awesome Little Sleepers YouTube channel! 👇
1. Be considerate, but don’t cater.
“Be intentional about including a safe food during every single meal and snack. A safe food is not a favorite food. A safe food is a food that they've reliably eaten in the past.
We want to include a safe food during their meals so that they have something to fill their bellies up. Sometimes just taking the edge off of their hunger puts them in a better state of being willing to learn to eat a new food, which is what we're asking them to do.
I mean, if we put a brand new food in front of them, expecting them to eat it, but we're not teaching them what it is or might taste like… they don't have 20, 30, 40 years of experience with food [like we do]. Sometimes we're just expecting too much out of what they know to be true. So when they're hungry and then we're saying, ‘Oh, and also now let's go ahead and learn a new skill,’ that's not going to go well for them.
What I recommend is always serving a safe food in the end so if that's all they eat, at least they ate something. It takes the edge off hunger so that they can learn a new skill in the moment.”
2. Put less on the plate.
“It’s really enticing to either compare to other kids or to yourself or what you think they need or the back of the label or to what they ate last time and fill up their plate. Half a chicken breast, that’s plenty.
I always encourage parents, especially with the new food that you want them to try(but really all foods), put way less on the plate.
You want to create a culture where they can ask for more and you can give them more. This is going to help in so many different ways. It's not super overwhelming for them, and at the same time, you're not stressed about food waste because you only put a little bit on their plate.
It's going to lead to them feeling less overwhelmed, more invitation to that food – especially a new food. And it's not going to be as easy for you to step into those pressure tactics because you're not as worried about a food waste situation."
3. Use a bridge food.
“Using a bridge food is essentially taking the food that you want them to eat and taking a food that they already eat and using it as a bridge to get them to eat that food.
One great, easy example is something like a dip or a sauce. I, too, have a child who likes to eat ranch dressing like soup. And you're like, ‘I don't want them to just eat the ranch dressing.’
I often tell them ‘Ranch is for dipping’ and just remind them of that. But using things like ketchup or ranch dressing or some sort of sauce or dip or side as a bridge to get them to eat that new food can be a really effective way to help your child feel a little bit more comfortable with that food.”
A few more important takeaways from Alyssa’s and my conversation:
Picky eating typically starts between two and two and a half years of age.
There are major parallels between the dynamic of picky eaters and stubborn sleepers.
Picky eating is a symptom of the real issue, not the issue itself.
Let your child explore and try new things instead of telling them how and when to eat.
Using a T-ball analogy, think about how you can set your child up for success so you can be more hands-off and let them knock it out of the park.
You can learn more about Alyssa and the work she does on her website, nutritionforlittles.com, subscribe and listen to her podcast, Nutrition for Littles, or follow along and learn from her on Instagram, @Nutrition.For.Littles.