If you’re like most parents of young children, you’re concerned about what your child is and isn’t eating. It’s a complaint you hear from the majority of parents “I wish he were less picky about food!” and “I can’t get her to eat anything but mac and cheese.” Picky eaters seem to be on the rise and exasperated parents right along with them. In this article, we’d like to help you alleviate some of your worry while also offering solid tips for expanding your child’s culinary horizons.

Make a List of What Your Child Currently Eats

As parents, we can fall into a trap of worrying about our kids more than necessary. When it comes to our kids’ diets, we can really work ourselves into a frenzy over what they refuse to eat. This exercise can be very helpful in easing some of the worry over your child’s food. Sit down with pen and paper (or at the computer) and make a list of every single thing your child eats and drinks. You may even want to separate the list into categories such as Beverages, Fruits, Vegetables, Meats, etc. Take your time to be sure you don’t miss anything. 

This exercise often reveals that your child eats more healthy foods than you thought. Sometimes a lot more! Once you see it in black and white, your worry may be completely alleviated (that is the hope). However, if your child is eating very few healthy foods, you now know where you’re starting from. And, even if your child is eating a pretty healthy diet, there is always room for improvement and more variety.

Institute a “No, thank you” bite rule

We love the idea of instituting a new rule where your kids have to take a “No, thank you” bite of whatever food has been prepared. This practice serves many purposes. A “No, thank you” bite teaches kids to appreciate that you (or someone else) took the time to prepare a healthy meal for them. It’s a way for them to learn to show kindness toward the person who prepared the food and to be grateful for that food; qualities that are important to instill in children. Requiring a “No, thank you” bite also has the added benefit of getting them to taste new foods. What often happens is once a child takes a single bite, he or she actually likes the food. And, if they don’t, you can give them praise for making the effort to try it.

Let Them Get Hungry – Very Hungry

In America, we have long been raising a generation of snackers. Rarely do you see a mom of toddlers out and about without a bag of Cheerios, Cheez-Its or fruit snacks in hand. While sometimes you are out and simply have to offer a snack to your about-to-meltdown-from-hunger child, letting him or her get really hungry is key to successfully introducing new foods. When kids are constantly grazing on snacks all day, they never feel true hunger and, therefore, tend to be even pickier about trying new foods. Think about yourself. When you’re not that hungry, nothing really sounds or smells good, right? Well it’s the same for your kids. You are not a bad parent if you eliminate snacking in your home! Let your kids get good and hungry and see what it does to their appetite at mealtime.

The moral of the story? Assess what your child currently eats first and, maybe, you can let go of the food worry. If, however, you find your child isn’t eating enough healthy foods, let them feel true hunger and require them to take one small bite of the foods you prepare. This combination of approaches should help alleviate some of your worry while also getting your child to try new foods.