Tips for Feeding Picky Youngsters

Written by UConn Dietetics student Rebecca Mowrey

As children begin developing food preferences during toddler and preschool-aged years, it’s normal for picky eating behaviors

Mom trying to feed child while the child covers their face
Image by ZERO TO THREE3

to arise when exploring new foods.1 Picky eating is often characterized by an unwillingness to eat new and/or familiar foods. These behaviors can make mealtimes a struggle, but there are a variety of approaches parents can use to reduce a child’s picky eating tendencies.

When introducing new foods to your child at home:

  1. Offer a Variety of Foods from all Food Groups

Throughout the day at designated snack and mealtimes, offer your child a variety of healthy foods including fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy, and protein foods. As a parent, you are responsible for the what, when and where of feeding. Your child is responsible for the how much and whether.2

  1. Serve New Foods Alongside Familiar Foods

A child’s willingness to try new foods is increased when the new foods are served with foods they already enjoy eating. Next time you offer your child a new food, pair it with a familiar food. For example, if you’re looking to introduce your child to yogurt for the first time and you know they love strawberries, try serving a spoonful of yogurt with a few strawberries on the same plate.

  1. Serve New Foods in Small Portions

Offering large portions of new foods can be intimidating to young children. When introducing your child to a new food, start with bite-sized portions and slowly increase the portion size over time. For example, if you’re serving green beans to your child for the first time, try putting one green bean on their plate and see how they like it. Remember, it may take up to 8-10 tries before your child accepts a new food so don’t feel discouraged if they don’t touch it on the first try.1 Continue to offer the food at other snack or mealtimes over time. Parents’ role modeling of eating healthy foods is also very helpful for children to see.

  1. Involve Your Children in the Kitchen

Did you know that children are more likely to try foods that they help prepare? Next time you’re working in the kitchen, try giving your child simple activities to do. For example, have your child rinse or peel fruits and vegetables, tear lettuce, cut soft ingredients with their own plastic knife, or measure/add/mix wet and dry ingredients.1

Citations

  1. Toddlers. MyPlate. Retrieved February 22, 2022, from https://www.myplate.gov/life-stages/toddlers.
  2. Satter Division of Responsibility in feeding toddlers through adolescents. https://www.ellynsatterinstitute.org/how-to-feed/the-division-of-responsibility-in-feeding/#Trust%20your%20child%20to%20eat. Accessed March 1, 2022.
  3. How to handle picky eaters. ZERO TO THREE. (2010, April 18). Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/1072-how-to-handle-picky-eaters.

 

This material is funded by UDSA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

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