Picky eating is a common parenting challenge, but it can be tackled, says one Canadian parenting expert.
It tends to start as soon as children are out of the soft-and-mushy food stage — and can be worrying. When they’re babies, you can always supplement with breast milk or formula. As they get older and start eating solids, the baby who would devour whatever was spooned out can be replaced by a toddler who will turn up their nose. What to do?
According to Canadian parenting expert Robina Uddin, a.k.a. Nanny Robina, the key is to introduce as many tastes and textures as possible, as early as possible. But parents also need to be “patient, consistent and persistent.” Her motto when it comes to dealing with a picky eater: “Never give up.”
We asked Robina for parenting tips to help picky eaters become more adventurous — and for some nutritious snack suggestions from the expanded range of PC Organics Baby & Toddler.
“If your child doesn’t like it today, they might like it tomorrow. Never assume that it’s something that should be taken off the menu for good, especially when they’re very young.”
Start introducing new foods early
Robina has been in childcare for more than 40 years and says that in her experience, if parents introduce enough foods and textures very early on, they likely won’t face as much of a food battle.
“When you introduce a new food, especially with very young children, you have to remember it’s new to their palate,” she says. Robina suggests introducing something new, then bringing it back so the taste slowly but surely becomes familiar, or introducing in combination with a food your child already likes.
“PC Organics smoothie melts come in handy. They combine banana, a familiar flavour to babies and toddlers, with exotic flavours such as passion fruit or mango. On top of that, the smoothie melts are super easy for little ones to eat.”
Don’t focus too much on particular foods
Parents should try to relax and allow kids to explore food and give them time rather than push, Robina says. “Very few children have a love affair with food like adults do, so it’s more of a chore for them. To avoid that power struggle, change the focus; don’t make it all about the food.”
According to Robina, if parents focus less on whether kids are eating fruits and vegetables and instead let them choose what they want from a range of nutrient-dense foods, mealtime will eventually be less of an issue and more of what every parent wants: an easy family dinner. If kids are consistently refusing to eat their broccoli, you can always find options that deliver fruits and veggies in a different way, she says.
“Everybody needs to realize that no matter what you tell your child, whether it’s regarding food or what time they go to bed, your child will have you jumping through hoops if you put too much attention on it,” Robina explains. “Then it becomes an attention-seeking tool.”
Be patient and wait for kids to come around to new foods
It’s easy to get frustrated when your child has zero interest in what you’re serving, but Robina insists that parents need to stick it out.
“If your child doesn’t like it today, they might like it tomorrow,” she explains. “Never assume that it’s something that should be taken off the menu for good, especially when they’re very young. It’s just a matter of persevering and waiting for that palate to come around, bit by bit, and once it gets there, it’s all much easier.”
Robina also suggests looking online for recipes that go beyond kid favourites like pasta and shepherd’s pie. “There are so many amazing things that you can find today, new recipes and new foods. Even the fussiest of eaters will find something there that would perhaps be appealing to the taste buds.”
Offer a range of foods kids can feed themselves
Sometimes toddlers want to assert some independence, feed themselves and eat when they’re ready. For this, Robina recommends “foods that are fun and colourful,” as well as chunks of chewy fruit, veggie and oat bars or crunchy animal-shaped cookies whose small size makes them perfect for little hands to grab.
Spend time eating with children
With family members running on different schedules, sitting together at the table isn’t always realistic. But Robina suggests that you make time to share a meal a few days a week.
“Children typically mimic the actions of their parents and peers,” Robina says. “Eating together and showing them how you are enjoying the meal with a couple exclamations of ‘Mmm, that’s delicious’ can go a long way.”