healthy food for picky eaters

What’s the Perfect Healthy Food for Picky Eaters?

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By Sofía González B.

Did you have a sibling or cousin who was a picky eater during their childhood? Or were you a picky eater? If that is the case, it is easier to view the entire situation under a different, more benevolent lens. Getting your child to eat all sorts of foods, including fruits and vegetables, can be a very stressful process.

"Picky" eating habits can appear as early as in two and extend to their pre-teen years. The moment a child begins developing more independent behavior, the more likely parents will begin noticing a change in their eating patterns. This is why, according to Zero to Three, witnessing fussiness can be viewed more as a milestone rather than a concern. 

Of course, there are limits to this milestone. If a child is too fussy and won't accept most foods, parents may fall under considerable stress to provide their children with the appropriate nutrition. But how does picky eating work and what can you do about it?

healthy food for picky eaters

Cooking with your children helps them have a different take on food.

Some Insight on Picky Eating

According to an article published in Pediatrics, picky eating starts early and tends to stay until they're 9 or older. It's usually better to start building a different approach to food before the child turns 2, which is around the time any signs of fussy eating begins.

It is also important to note that picky eating is indicative of a bigger problem, as eating is also an emotional action. The study found that those childrens who had a hard time controlling their emotions were also picky with their food. For instance, a child who cries frequently is bound to have meal time as a source of stress.

The study suggests that parents who've noticed that their children are having issues with their behavior as well as their eating habits should consult their physician. Both aspects are tied together, so it's better to tackle them as early as possible.

Another aspect that influences pickiness is having a very demanding parent. If your parents told you you couldn’t go out and play until you finished everything on your plate, then you know exactly what we are talking about.  Researchers found that a child was more likely to become a picky eater if their parents became demanding. Although it's usually well-meaning, paying too much attention can exert a lot of pressure on the child.

healthy food for picky eaters

Crunchy pineapple bites are a great snack for kids.

What Can Parents Do?

The study we've mentioned suggests using positive reinforcement to make mealtime a positive experience. This implies turning off screens, talking to each other and, you know, having a normal conversation at the table. Meal time could also be family time. 

Other research also suggests pairing new foods with ones that your kids already know and accept. If your child can only have vegetables with ketchup, use it. If fruit can only be consumed when sprinkled with sugar, try doing so once in a while (as a treat). This practice will help your child get used to familiar tastes.

Having family meals also works as positive peer pressure. No one likes to be forced to eat, and reacts differently if their parents or siblings are eating the very foods they are rejecting. This, along with some patience and persistence will help your child accept more foods in their diet.

Have your child get involved in meal making. Part of the process of eating involves cooking, so make some space in your busy schedule to try new recipes. Select ingredients together and have your child involved in every step of the way. This way, you'll make eating more enjoyable.

Part of the meal-making process is portioning. Have your child select how much they wish to eat and work with them on an ideal portion size. Remember children eat less than adults, and sometimes pickiness is more related to how much food they have on their plate rather than what kind of food.

healthy food for picky eaters

Nunu bars are filling, tasty and perfect for lunch boxes.

How to Add Healthy Food for Picky Eaters

Including fresh fruit can be tricky! A good tip is to go for flavors similar to the ones they already like. For instance, if they enjoy pineapple, try to incorporate fruits that have a flavor profile that resembles pineapple. Tropical fruits work wonderfully for this, as you can select uchuvas, mango or even the soursop. 

Play with color. Tropical fruits are incredibly diverse in shape, size and texture - so even those that might look intimidating might be attractive for your child. One great way of introducing new fruits is to make fruit skewers, combining new flavors next to those they already enjoy. When doing this, explain to your child what you are doing. Get them involved.

Include fruits in dishes and beverages you wouldn’t typically add them to. For instance, in Costa Rica, it’s very normal to have your meal with natural fruit juice. Soursop, which is a very coveted fruit juice, is not usually eaten as it is. Prepare fruit juices the day before and leave them for meals or to have along with a snack. Just remember to keep the sugar at bay!

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