Selective and picky eating tendencies are very common for young children as they start exploring new foods. Most of the families I work with (especially new parents) are often concerned when a child does not try something and will often mislabel them as “picky” when they are just being a normal kid. For the average child, it can take 8-15 exposures to a new food before it is even tried once! Becoming an adventurous eater takes some time and parental patience.
A lot of families dread meals as they may be the low-point of the day when you are frustrated that your child comes to the table and starts screaming after they see what is on the table. The next thing you know, someone is in the kitchen making the child’s favorite foods. You think you are winning because your child is eating, but what has happened is the child has trained the caregiver. They just learned that if they make a big enough fuss, they will get what they want. Sounds all too familiar? I know as I have been there, but I am going to tell you meals do not have to be this way.
Once a firm meal structure is set up, it is time to reel in the short-order cooking. Kids will eventually try new things if they are in a non-threatening environment, and if done on their terms. If your child is growing and thriving and between the ages of 2 and 4, they will typically eat one meal, play with another meal, and refuse a meal. This is completely normal. We also need to trust that the child knows how much their body needs and will eat as much or as little as is needed. When we start forcing our children to eat more or hound them to try, they will resist and we may be altering their ability to know when they have had enough.
One tip I always recommend to parents is to make sure there is at least 1 (max of 2) preferred food items at each meal. They should be incorporated into the family meal, which can make the meals seem a little odd at times, but at least you know they may eat something without cooking them a second meal. Everyone in the family should have the same food items available and offered to them. I also often suggest a divided plate to make this a little less stressful for the child as most children do not want to have the new foods touching their preferred foods.
The other component with less stressful meals is the parents /caregivers. Sitting and enjoying the mealtime with your child instead of stressing over whether or not they will eat. Kids pick up on this and it can make a joyful time into a frustrating event.
Lastly, make sure to offer balanced meals for the whole family and to make sure everyone is trying new foods, parents included.