My child is a picky eater

But for the child’s health and to help him develop his tastes, this type of menu is not recommended. What should you do if you have a picky eater?

Enjoying foods can be learned!

Liking sweet and salty flavours is innate. Liking bitter and sour flavours has to be learned. Several reasons explain some children’s reluctance to new foods.

  • It’s normal for kids to first refuse a new food (we call this food neophobia) and then adopt it at his own pace.
  • Children’s mouths have more sensory receptors than adults’, and they’re also more sensitive. This makes their taste experiences more intense.
  • Kids’ chewing ability is limited. Textures are often an obstacle to their appreciation of granular, crunchy or fibrous foods.

On average, kids need to be « in contact » with a new food 7 times until they eat and enjoy it. For some, it will take twice as long ! Don’t give up and keep presenting new foods to your child. It’s with repetition that a food becomes familiar.

Key ingredient: pleasure

The context in which the food is experienced will influence the child’s desire to try it again - or not!  It must therefore be a positive one!

  • Don’t force your child. Just present him the foods and offer him a taste.
  • Tell your child that it’s a « gown up » food and that he might still be too young to like it. It could stimulate his interest!
  • Eat the new foods yourself, and show how much you enjoy them. Preach by example!
One single menu

To « buy peace » and make sure that the child eats enough, a parent could be tempted to prepare him a special meal. In the short term, this solution should be avoided, because it could encourage the child’s stubborn attitude. In the long term, the child could become more and more demanding and difficult. Here are a few tips to facilitate the introduction of new foods and make these discoveries fun : 

  • Introduce only one new food per meal so that the child feels confident and to make sure that he has something to eat if he doesn’t like the « foreign food ».
  • Involve your child in the meal choice and preparation. If he added a new vegetable in the grocery bag himself, he will be proud of himself and more inclined to taste it.
  • Put at least two different vegetables on his plate to make him feel like he has a choice… and a certain power!
  • Cut the new food in small pieces to allow the child to get used to it progressively.
  • Avoid snacks less than 2 hours before a meal; everything tastes better when we’re really hungry!
  • Offer him a dessert (one portion, not two or three) even he doesn’t finish his meal. Avoid presenting dessert as a treat, because it could maintain his negative view of the main course.
  • Encourage your child, congratulate him when he makes an effort and avoid food-related criticism and punishment.
Balancing meals

Dessert can be a good way to complete an unbalanced meal. If your child didn’t eat his veggies, give him a colourful fruit salad as a dessert. If he refused to eat meat, think about yogurt, milk or tofu mousse for protein. If he didn’t touch his pasta or rice, a homemade muffin will be the perfect derssert ! 

Kids can be unpredictable. They can like a certain food one day and refuse to eat it a few days later. Don’t put too much pressure on your little one and continue to offer him a diversified menu. The foods to which he’s exposed as a child will influence him throughout his life.

The content of this article belongs to Extenso, Reference Centre On Human Nutrition.

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