Getting a toddler to try different foods can be a challenge for many parents, coupled with that, the swinging pendulum of likes and dislikes can be frustrating at best; a firm food favourite one day can be snubbed at the next. Bianca Tromp, a FUTURELIFE® dietician, says that picky eating is a common challenge among small children that often causes considerable parental anxiety. “Worried parents may find themselves rushing to the doctor as they navigate what can become cause for daily conflict and concern.”
She adds that although toddlers are known for their picky eating, most of them are likely to grow out of it, “In fact, the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development in which 1498 children aged 2.5 to 4 years were assessed at three intervals, found that 30% were picky eaters at some time during the 18-months of the study, although only 5.5% were picky eaters across all three intervals.”
So, regardless of whether your toddler falls into the first 30% (the ‘here-today-gone-tomorrow picky eater) or the last 5.5% (the picky eater die-hards), Bianca has some sound tips to help win them over:
1. Perseverance is key
As frustrated as you may be, don’t give up on offering your child new foods. Toddlers are notoriously resistant to anything new, but the problem is that as parents we simply give up too easily. In fact, according to a 2004 study, more than 90% of caregivers offered kids food they did not like only three to five times before giving up. Studies however show that it takes offering your child new foods 10-15 times before they begin to enjoy them.
2. Don’t force them to eat
This doesn’t mean that you throw caution to the wind and avoid regular mealtimes altogether. Routine is essential and regular meal and snack times (at the same time every day!) is important to give your child a sense of security and stability. Most toddlers are able to regulate their own appetite, so you needn’t force them to eat if they are not hungry. Simply try again at the next snack time/meal. It will eliminate so much unnecessary stress for both of you.
3. Say no to sugary treats
This is a toughie because so many parents struggle with it – as good as your intentions are, you often just give in to your toddlers demands because in your mind, “Some food is better than no food.” You’re not alone. Research by Safefood shows that many parents describe how hard it is resisting the pester power of children who are constantly demanding sweets, sugary drinks and foods throughout the day. In an effort to get your child to start enjoying healthy alternatives, you are going to have to be prepared to say “no”, hold your ground and sit out tantrums if need be. They will quickly learn how serious you are, hunger will set in and they’ll try what’s on offer. This doesn’t mean no sugary treats ever – it simply means limiting their intake to weekends or special occasions.
4. Add flavour, texture and variety
The key to getting your fussy toddler to eat different foods is to introduce variety and flavour. By introducing new things, you will slowly train your child’s taste buds to enjoy more complex flavours. For example, if your kid likes plain wholegrain pasta, try adding a little olive oil. Once that’s accepted, add some vegetables, then some chicken and so forth. Also, play around with textures. For instance, if you tried mashed vegetables one day, next time, try offering them the same vegetables roasted or even raw. You can also spread out different textured food throughout the day. For example, you can serve a bowl of cereal, like the FUTURELIFE® Tots range (which is soft-textured) for breakfast followed by roasted vegetables for lunch, and crunchy textured fruits like an apple for snack time.
“The first few years of your child’s life are a crucial time to establish healthy eating behaviours. Use mealtimes to bond with your child and support their overall development with nutritious and balanced meals and snacks. And, remember, feeding a picky toddler is a marathon and not a sprint. Try to keep it fun and lighthearted so that they develop a healthy relationship with food, and if you are concerned about your child’s growth or development, seek help from a healthcare professional,” Bianca concludes.