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Why You Should Keep Offering New Foods to Your Picky Eater

If you’ve ever struggled with a picky eater, you know the challenges and frustrations that come with it. Mealtimes can become a battleground, with healthy eating habits the last thing on your mind, sick of constantly offering new foods to no avail, desperate to get your child to eat something, anything! However, the persistent effort to offer new foods to picky eaters is not just a futile exercise; it’s an essential strategy for developing a well-rounded and nutritious diet for your child. As a feeding therapist, here are some key reasons I recommend that you keep offering new foods to your picky eaters.

Increases Exposure and Reduces Food Neophobia

One of the primary reasons to keep offering new foods is to increase your child’s exposure to different tastes and textures. Food neophobia, the fear of trying new foods, is a natural stage in childhood development. The more often children see and experience new foods, the less intimidating those foods become. Over time, repeated exposure can turn reluctance into curiosity and eventually acceptance.

Ensures Nutritional Variety

Offering a variety of foods is crucial for ensuring a balanced diet. Different foods provide different essential nutrients, and a varied diet helps cover all the bases, from vitamins and minerals to fibre and protein. By persistently introducing new foods, you help ensure that your child receives a comprehensive range of nutrients necessary for healthy growth and development.

Develops Healthy Eating Habits

The habits formed in childhood often carry into adulthood. By consistently offering new foods, you are helping your child develop a habit of trying and enjoying a variety of foods. This can lead to a lifetime of healthier eating patterns, reducing the risk of developing poor dietary habits and related health issues later in life.

Encourages Flexibility and Adaptability

Children who are regularly exposed to new foods learn to be more flexible and adaptable in their eating habits. This flexibility is not just beneficial at home but also in social situations, where being open to trying different foods can enhance their dining experience and social interactions.

Positive Role Modelling

Children are great imitators. When they see their parents or caregivers regularly offering and eating a variety of foods, they are more likely to do the same. This positive role modelling sets a powerful example, encouraging them to follow suit and try new foods themselves.

Reduces Mealtime Stress

Persistent efforts to introduce new foods can eventually make mealtimes less stressful. When children become accustomed to seeing new foods on their plates, they learn to expect and accept variety, reducing the frequency of mealtime battles and making family meals more enjoyable.

Enhances Sensory Development

Trying new foods is a great way to enhance sensory development. Each new food offers a unique combination of flavours, textures, and aromas. Exposure to this variety helps children develop their senses and improves their ability to appreciate and enjoy different foods.

Builds Confidence and Independence

Successfully trying and liking new foods can be a rewarding experience for children, boosting their confidence and sense of independence. This positive reinforcement encourages them to continue exploring new foods, making them more self-assured and adventurous eaters.

Supports Social Skills

Being open to trying new foods can significantly improve social experiences, especially in settings like school or social gatherings. Children who are willing to try different foods are more likely to feel comfortable and included in diverse eating situations, enhancing their social skills and interactions.

How to successfully offer new foods to your picky eater

Successfully offering new foods to picky eaters requires patience, creativity, and consistency. Here are some strategies to help you along the way:

Be Patient and Persistent

  • Don't Force It: Forcing children to eat new foods can create negative associations. Offer the food without pressure and allow them to decide when they're ready to try it.

  • Consistent Exposure: Introduce new foods regularly. It can take multiple exposures (sometimes 10-15 times) before a child feels comfortable trying something new.

Create a Positive Environment

  • Make Mealtimes Enjoyable: Create a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere during meals that focuses on food exploration. Avoid turning mealtime into a battleground.

  • Positive Reinforcement: Praise and encourage your child when they try new foods, even if they only take a small bite.

Involve Your Child

  • Cook Together: Involve your child in meal preparation. They are more likely to try foods they’ve helped make.

  • Grocery Shopping: Let them choose new fruits, vegetables, or other healthy options during grocery shopping.

Make It Fun

  • Creative Presentation: Arrange food in fun shapes or designs. Make a smiley face with vegetables or use cookie cutters to create interesting shapes.

  • Taste Tests: Have a taste test game where your child gets to sample small portions of new foods and rate them.

Start Small

  • Small Portions: Offer small portions of new foods alongside preferred foods. This makes the new food less intimidating.

  • Gradual Introduction: Introduce new foods gradually by incorporating them into dishes your child already likes.

Use Dips and Sauces

  • Flavour Enhancers: Pair new foods with familiar dips or sauces. Kids might be more willing to try vegetables with a favourite dip.

Consistency is Key

  • Regular Offering: Keep offering the new food regularly. Even if it's rejected initially, persistence can eventually lead to acceptance.

  • Routine: Include new foods as a regular part of meals, not just special occasions.

Mix New with Familiar

  • Blend and Hide: Incorporate new foods into dishes they already like, such as adding finely chopped vegetables to pasta sauces or smoothies.

  • Combo Dishes: Make dishes that combine new foods with their favourite ingredients.

Explore and Educate

  • Talk About Food: Teach your child about the foods properties, what shape is it, colour, texture, smell, taste etc.

  • Food Stories: Share interesting stories or facts about the new foods to catch their interest.

While it may seem challenging and sometimes frustrating, consistently offering new foods to picky eaters is a vital part of both reversing the picky eating puzzle and their overall development. It promotes nutritional variety, healthy eating habits, flexibility, and adaptability, while also reducing mealtime stress and enhancing sensory development. By sticking with it, you’re not just expanding their palate—you’re laying the groundwork for a healthier, more confident, and well-rounded individual. So, keep offering those new foods; your persistence will pay off in the long run.

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