Proven strategies to deal with picky eaters among preschoolers
Feeding nutritious food to our preschoolers is a top priority for all of us parents. So what do you do when your little one often refuses to eat or chooses to eat the same food repeatedly? Though this may test your patience, we must remember that picky eating is very common among toddlers and preschoolers. It’s a natural phase of growing up that they will eventually outgrow.
When they reach their second year, growth in children may slow down. Around this time, as they begin to feed themselves, they explore different foods and flavours, developing individual food preferences. With this newfound sense of control, your preschoolers may have their own choice about what and how much they would like to eat. Believe it or not, if one were to understand the psychology of picky eaters, we would recognize that this is a way for them to assert their growing independence. As they learn new skills, our little ones experience a lot of changes at the same time. So choosing to eat the same food might be a way for them to feel secure amongst all the rapid changes.
Some Reasons for Picky Eating Among Preschoolers:
There are many reasons why your preschooler may be a fussy eater during mealtimes. Here are some common reasons. They:
- maybe sensitive to taste, smell, or texture of certain foods,
- want to choose for and feed themselves. Signs of their growing independence,
- tend to be super active. So they prefer not to sit around long to eat,
- may have medical issues like allergies or intolerances to certain foods. It is best to rule these out early on.
Tips to Manage Picky Preschool Eaters:
While you wait for your preschooler to outgrow their phase of picky eating, how do you deal with it and ensure that your children’s nutrition is not adversely impacted? Don’t stress, you are not alone in this journey. Here are some ways on how to fix a picky eater. These useful tips will come in handy as you encourage your child to slowly adopt healthy eating habits.
- Have fun with food:
Get creative and try to present different foods to your preschooler in a way that gets their attention. Children are more likely to eat colourful foods and the ones that are cut up into fun shapes, especially when trying something new. Explore new foods together by allowing them to touch, smell, lick, taste, or play with it before they eat it. Having some fun with food is not such a bad thing after all. It’s also important to create a stress-free environment while eating, more so when your preschooler is being picky about food.
Introduce different vegetables’ names through Kutuki’s fun song, ‘Veggies are yummy’. Watch it together with your little one to get them excited about trying some vegetables and fruits! Download the Kutuki kids learning app today for more such fun songs on food.
- Involve them in food prep:
Try putting their growing independence to good use. Have your child pick out fruits and vegetables they would like to have. Allow them to help you with cooking too. Many a time involving them in the process will make them more willing to eat their creation and try new foods. There are many fussy eater recipes available that you can try together with your preschooler. Allowing them to prepare their own plate helps them feel like they are making independent choices for themselves. Apart from getting preschoolers excited and interested in exploring food, involving them also helps develop a very useful life skill.
The Kutuki song,‘Last night I made a salad’ shows how Kutu prepares some yummy salad with his mother’s help. To watch more such engaging content with your preschooler, download the Kutuki kids learning app.
- Start small, start slow:
Introduce new foods to your preschooler in small quantities, preferably with something they are already fond of. Then eventually, increase the newly-introduced food portion. You can maintain a sheet of different vegetable drawings. To get them excited, have your preschooler colour the sheet when they try a particular vegetable for the first time. This would also help you pay attention to their tastes and be mindful of not exposing them too much too soon. Forcing large portions of foods they are unfamiliar with or not excited about may not be a good idea. Too much too soon is bound to overwhelm your preschooler.
- Offer variety:
Ensure that you offer a variety of healthy food in small amounts at least a few times a week. This way, your preschooler would get to explore a range of new flavours and textures of food. Wait at least a week or so before you reintroduce the new food to them. Be creative, consistent, and honest about the ingredients when introducing them without imposing any pressure.
- Being forceful doesn’t help:
Refrain from forcing your preschooler to eat. Pushing children too hard to do anything can be counterproductive. In this case, it could lead them to eat less or not eat what you’d like them to have. The use of force may result in them disliking the food that they may otherwise enjoy or, in some cases, makes them feel anxious about mealtimes. Labelling certain foods as good or bad may also create an unhealthy relationship with different foods. Encourage them to listen to their body and use hunger as their guide.
- Share meals together:
Having meals together as a family is an excellent opportunity to model healthy eating habits to your preschooler. Resist the urge to prepare a separate meal for your little one. This would only encourage picky eating further. Enjoy the same meal as a family together. Peers, like family, can also influence and motivate your preschooler to try new foods. So having adventurous friends join you for meals is not such a bad idea. It is also important to ensure that mealtimes are free of distractions.
- Set an example:
Young children can be influenced by their parents' food choices. So practice what you preach. It is important to model good eating habits to instil the same in your preschooler. It can build confidence in your child to try out choices similar to yours and be more willing to new tastes and textures.
- Rethink the rewards:
Bribing your preschooler with sweet treats later may not necessarily be the best way to increase food acceptance. The reward may be more exciting than the food itself. That said, praising your child or other non-food-related rewards, for instance, extra playtime, can be considered. In any case, it is a good idea to scale back on unhealthy snacking, especially right before mealtimes, if you want your little one to have a good appetite. Replace them, maybe, with snacks that contact vegetables rich in protein.
- Keep trying:
Young children can be more accepting of new foods if it is presented to them several times. So don’t just give up if your preschooler turns you down once. Be patient. Engage in a fun conversation about the food. Serve the rejected food again in different ways. For instance, use vegetable drawings and storytelling to talk to them about why it’s important to have vegetables with Vitamin C. Repeated exposure without coercion can slowly encourage them and increase their acceptance of the new foods.
Together with your preschooler, visit ‘Kutu & Ki’s Farm?’. Get your little one excited as Kutu and Ki introduce them to different vegetables while picking some fresh ones out for themselves. Check out the Kutuki kids learning app for more songs, stories, and rhymes on sharing for preschoolers.
In addition to addressing key learning milestones, the Kutuki early learning platform focuses on habits like healthy eating in preschoolers. Recognizing that each child has a mind and preferences of their own, the platform instils these habits through preschooler activities that use interactive elements with a mixture of creative song and story-based curriculum. Through both assisted online preschool programs and unassisted, self-paced modes of learning, the platform provides preschoolers with an immersive experience that prepares them for what lies ahead.
The bottom line is to respect your child’s appetite or the lack of one. As shared earlier, forcing, nagging, or bribing your preschooler to eat certain foods would overwhelm them, further causing anxiety and frustration. Remember, this is only a temporary phase. So in the meantime, pay good attention to their taste. New foods offered based on their preferences will increase their willingness to accept them. Don’t stress if you aren’t successful initially. Like everything we do for our preschoolers, here too, patience is key. Kids need time and space to try new foods. So, as parents, give them as many opportunities and foods to explore slowly and fall in love with.