Baby's First Year · Nutrition · Parenting

Is your child a picky eater, or a learning eater?

little boy looking upset and sitting in front of a plate of vegetables

Does your child enjoy certain foods one day and refuse to eat them the next? Children can be hard to predict when it comes to food and eating, which is a concern I hear from many parents.

Young children are learning to eat; they are developing their own food preferences. It is important for parents to teach them good habits with patience and set them up for future success.

Why won’t they eat?

Growth: Children come in different shapes and sizes and are growing at different rates. They will go through faster growth periods where they will eat more, and slower growth periods where they will eat less.

Feelings/Emotions: Just like adults, children are more likely to eat when they are happy or in a good mood. If the child is upset, tired or not feeling well, they are less likely to eat.

Independence: Children like to feed themselves and choose what they eat. Trust that your child knows when they are hungry or full. Serve a variety of healthy foods so that your child can choose what they want to try and serve themselves.

Distractions: Children would rather play or watch TV than sit down to eat. Remove any distractions, such as toys, and turn off electronics and the TV during mealtimes.

Role model: You are a role model for your child. They copy your behaviour and are more likely to eat the foods they see you eating. Be a good role model and eat a variety of foods; trying new foods often.

When offering a new food, it can take up to 15x before the child will accept it.

Attention: Children will refuse to eat to gain their parents’ attention. Avoid rewarding the child when they eat certain foods or punishing them when they refuse food.

Pressure: The child is less likely to eat and more likely to refuse food if they are being pressured to eat something.

New: Young children are often afraid to try something new. When offering a new food, it can take up to 15 times before the child will accept it.

Taste: Children can have a natural sensitivity to taste, smells, and texture. Again, offering foods a number of times can help to increase acceptance.

Fluid: They may be drinking too much milk and juice throughout the day. Drinking too much can leave less room for healthy food. Offer about 2 cups (500 mL) of milk a day for young children, and limit juice to no more than 3/4 cup (175 mL) per day. If your child is still thirsty, offer water.

Tips to Help Picky Eaters

  1. Eat at regular times. Offer 3 meals and 2-3 snacks at regular times each day. Offer only water between meals and snacks.
  2. Make one meal. If your child refuses to eat what is offered, do not offer them an alternative. Try to serve one food your child likes with the meal, so they will not go hungry.
  3. Offer a variety of nutritious foods. Offer a new food in small amounts paired with food your child likes. Expect it to take up to 15 times before the child will like a new food. There may be foods that your child truly does not like, and that is ok! Avoid pressuring or forcing your child to eat a food.
  4. Make food interesting and fun. Provide food in a variety of shapes, textures, and colours. For example, serve snacks in simple shapes like a fish or a star to make it fun for the child.
  5. Keep mealtimes enjoyable. A child who is happy and in an enjoyable environment is more likely to try new foods than a child who is in a stressful environment.

Here’s more tips to establish healthy eating habits.

Comment below and share how you help your child in their food adventures.

Connect with us via our e-chat or call us at (416) 338-7600 and speak to a Registered Nurse or Registered Dietitian if you have additional questions about your child’s eating habits and intake.

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