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Four Tips to Expand Your Picky Eating Kid's Food Palate

Published August 11, 2023

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As a Pediatric Registered Dietitian, one of the challenges I often hear from parents is dealing with picky eaters. Expanding your picky eating kids’ food palate can be frustrating when your kiddos turn their noses up at nutritious foods. However, introducing new foods into your picky eater’s palate is not an insurmountable task. With a little patience and creativity, you can help your kids develop a love for a wide variety of foods. In this article, we will review four tips to overcome picky eating and expand your kid’s taste buds.

Introducing New Foods to Picky Eaters

Your kids’ reaction to new foods can tell you a lot. Here are some questions to consider prior to the first bite that will help assess your little one’s willingness to try something new:

1. Are your kids okay being in the room with new foods? This includes all the senses such as looking and smelling at the new food.

2. Are your kids okay with this new food on their plate?

3. Are your kids touching the food or holding it in their hand?

4. Are your kids open to bringing the food to their mouth for a small bite?

5. After you encourage your little ones to use all of their senses around a new food, allow them to take a bite and chew. If they are not ready, it’s okay to have them spit it out. Stay positive, repeat exposure as necessary, and let them know you are proud of them for taking the steps to trying a new food.

Learning how to introduce a new food by assessing their willingness first can make the process less overwhelming for our kids. Sometimes, the environment is more important than what’s on our kiddos’ plates. Research has demonstrated that a low stress environment with food will have the most success when it comes to picky eating [1].

Introduce New Foods Through Food Chaining

Food chaining is a process of taking a familiar food and progressing to a new food by slowly changing one element of the food at a time. The key to food chaining is to start slow and implement gradual, small changes. For example, if your little one enjoys baked fries at home made with regular potatoes, try providing a new ingredient but in the same fry shape, such as a sweet potato. After they familiarize themselves with a sweet potato, try introducing a cooked carrot in the same fry shape. Finally, transition to a raw carrot in the same shape. Gradual changes through food chaining can make trying new foods less challenging.

Key Takeaway #1:

To help with picky eating, try food chaining. Start with providing your little one’s something similar in color and shape and gradually change one feature, such as the color or the shape until they familiarize themselves with a new food.

During this process, it is important to be honest with our kiddos and refrain from hiding familiar food from kids. Being honest can keep the line of trust open during this process and allow your little ones to learn at their own pace. To ensure your picky eater is meeting their nutrition intake, check out our blog about Picky Eating and Ensuring Adequate Intakes.

Get Your Kiddos’ Involved in Mealtime Planning

Allow your kiddos to be curious and ask questions that allow for our little ones to talk about their food choices. Providing them an opportunity to have a say in the process will increase their interest and participation.

In addition, involve your kids in the meal planning process. Try making a list of fruits and vegetables you want them to try and displaying it in the kitchen. As they begin to try a new food, cross off each item the list together to track our kiddo’s progress. This is a great way to track and see all the new foods that they have tried.

Remember, it can take up to 15 times of trying a new food for a kid to determine if they enjoy or like the food [2]. It’s perfectly okay for your kids to try a new food and not like it. It is more important to let your kiddos know that you are proud of them for trying that new food.

Include Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement is key during the picky eating process and diversifying the palate. Keep your kiddo’s perception of food positive by teaching them that eating different food helps us grow strong. Consistent exposure will allow for a kid’s palette and taste preferences to change. Spending meals together as a family can also help increase positive associations with eating to overcome picky eating. Research has demonstrated that encouraging family mealtimes has a positive impact on kids developing a well-balanced diet and fostering a positive relationship with food [3]. When it comes to overcoming picky eating, slow and steady strategies are key to making long-term changes.

Key Takeaway #2:

Getting kiddos involved in the meal planning process allows our little ones to be naturally curious about new food choices. It can take up to 15 times of trying a new for our kids to determine if they enjoy or like the food. Continue to provide positive reinforcement to diversify the palate and spend meals together as a family to increase positive associations with eating.

Consider the Right Supplements to Fill in Nutrient Gaps

A kid’s multivitamin can help a picky eater’s diet by providing some key minerals and vitamins while your little one’s are getting used to trying new foods. Although we encourage whole fruits and vegetables first, a multivitamin may be helpful to support their intake especially if they are not consuming enough nutritious options consistently.

In addition, probiotics and prebiotics, such as Begin Health’s Growing Up Prebiotics play an important role in supporting a healthy, growing microbiome. Oftentimes, picky eaters are not consistently consuming enough fruits and vegetables to support their fiber requirements. Growing Up Prebiotics can promote regularity by providing your little ones with 3 grams of fiber from chicory root fiber to support softer stools [4].

Summary Dealing with picky eaters can be a challenging task for parents, but it is not impossible to overcome. By introducing new foods gradually and assessing their willingness to try, parents can create a low-stress environment for their kids. Food chaining, involving your kiddos in meal planning, and offering positive reinforcement during the process can increase their interest and participation. While whole fruits and vegetables should be encouraged, a kid's multivitamin and prebiotics like Growing Up Prebiotics can provide essential nutrients and fiber to support their diet while they adjust to new foods. With a little time and patience, parents can help their picky eaters develop a love for a wide variety of nutritious foods.

References:

1 Taylor CM, Emmett PM,. Picky eating in children: causes and consequences. Proc Nutr Soc. 2019 May; 78(2):161-169. Doi: 10.1017/S0029665118002586. EPUB 2018 Nov 5. PMID: 30392488; PMCID: PMC6398579.

2. Coulthard H., Harris G., Emmett P. Long Term Consequences of Early Fruit and Vegetable Feeding Practices in the United Kingdom. Public Health Nutrition. 2010; 13:2044-2051

3. Scaglioni S, De Cosmi V, Ciappolino V, Parazzini F, Brambilla P, Agostoni C. Factors Influencing Children’s Eating Behaviours. Nutrients. 2018 May 31; 10(6):706. Doi: 10.3390/nu10060706. PMID: 29857549; PMCID: PMC6024598

4. Closa-Monasterolo, R., Ferré, N., Castillejo-DeVillasante, G., Luque, V., Gispert-Llauradó, M., Zaragoza-Jordana, M., Theis, S., & Escribano, J. (2016b). The use of inulin-type fructans improves stool consistency in constipated children. A randomised clinical trial: pilot study. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, 68(5), 587–594. https://doi.org/10.1080/09637486.2016.1263605

Caroline Salozzo

Caroline Salozzo

Caroline Salozzo is a Registered Dietitian specializing in pediatric GI. She completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Kentucky and her MBA and dietetic internship at Dominican University. In her free time Caroline enjoys spending time cooking and playing with her dog, Nelly.

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