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Picky Eating: Serving Food You Think Your Kid Won’t Eat

When it comes to tackling picky eating, we want you to repeat the mantra, “Dial up the exposure and dial back the pressure.” This might sound simple in theory, but the reality is that we often do the opposite.

Picky Eating: Serving Food You Think Your Kid Won’t Eat

When it comes to tackling picky eating, we want you to repeat the mantra, “Dial up the exposure and dial back the pressure.” This might sound simple in theory, but the reality is that we often do the opposite unintentionally, despite the best intent:

  • “One more bite of broccoli and then you can have a cookie.” 
  • “No chicken fingers until you finish your peas.”
  • “My kid only eats chicken nuggets and french fries.”
  • “No strawberries on their plate, my kid won’t eat them.”
  • “My kid just doesn’t like vegetables.”

Sound familiar? So often, we stop serving fruits and vegetables (and other “rejected” foods) to our kids because we think, “My kid isn’t going to eat this, so why bother?” As a result, we end up serving only their favorite foods or foods we know they sometimes will eat, and the picky eating cycle continues in spite of our best efforts.

Dial up the exposure.

While we totally understand this impulse, we actually want you to do the opposite. Research shows that the best way to help our kids start to break picky eating habits (or to help prevent them in the first place) is to provide them with consistent, pressure-free exposure to a range of foods

Studies show that kids need anywhere between 30-100 pressure-free exposures to a new food before they may accept it. When you serve them a previously rejected food only once, they don’t get the opportunities they need to see it, touch it, taste it, and eventually accept it. So, keep the exposure up by serving their favorite foods alongside unaccepted foods or new foods, and then let your child explore how they may. 

Dial back the pressure. 

While you want to increase exposure, you want to decrease all pressure around the foods your child eats. Pressure can be both positive (“Yay, you ate all of your broccoli!”) or negative (“No more bread until you finish your peas!”), and believe it or not, both will backfire. While you may get your child to eat that certain food in the short-term, this pressure can turn mealtimes into power struggles where your child is eating to please you, rather than their belly. This will mean never-ending negotiations and tantrums during mealtimes, and your child is likely to fixate on the foods that you unconsciously place on a pedestal.

Top 3 Tips for Tackling Picky Eating

  1. Dial up the exposure by offering a menu that includes a food your child has accepted alongside a new food or a previously rejected food.
  2. When serving the meal, dial back the pressure by telling your child that they can have as much or as little as they want. Put them in control and allow them to take only a few bites or eat all of what is served.
  3. Whenever you have the urge to comment about their food, try to compliment them about something process-related (“You’re on how well they are sitting (anything process related), help them describe the food (crunchy, salty, sweet instead of yummy or icky), and help them use their imagination “that broccoli looks like a tree, what does it look like to you?”

We know it’s hard to step back and trust our kids, but we promise, this really works. Before you know it, meals will be more pleasant and your child will be more open to unfamiliar foods. 

And if you want more help with picky eating, listen to our podcast episodes, 7: Picky Eating and Mealtime Struggles: How to Bring Harmony to the Dinner Table and 31: What to Do When Your Child Refuses a Meal, and check out these articles: Raising an independent and intuitive eater, Making all foods fit: handling dessert, How to get kids excited about mealtime.

Want or need help thriving feeding your baby solids? Take our Feeding your Baby Solids Course. It covers ALL the topics, answers questions you didn’t even know you had, and it’s all broken down into short, easy to understand videos for you to watch on your own time and at your own pace, even while doing the dishes. For babies 3+ months old. We cannot recommend it enough!