1. Have your child shop with you
If you are able to, take your child to the Grocery Store to assist you in shopping. To make this trip easier, don’t take an overwhelming shopping list. Keep it simple with a purpose, so if you would like to have your child try new fruits, just stay in the fruit section. Notice how the grocery store specifically designs its vegetable and fruit section to be visually pleasing and inviting. The colored peppers are arranged in a beautiful rainbow-like display. It is not surprising to learn that grocery stores spend a ton of money on learning on how to display their items so you are more likely to purchase them. Having this information is useful, you can have your child help make your list, then go to the store and pick out new fruits together.
2. Healthy choices from the beginning
Having healthy snack choices is so important. Starting this healthy habit earlier will make it easier for you. Healthy snacks such as crackers, cheese, grapes, carrots, sliced peppers, or vegetables with hummus are great alternatives to chips. You can purchase gluten-free options as well. NOTE: Children must have their teeth and the ability to chew well prior to giving them solid foods. Around 2 years old is when I would recommend raw carrots; however, if you make a vegetable soup, you can introduce cooked carrots at around 6-7 months. If you introduce colorful and fun foods from the start, your child will not know any different.
3. Plate the food but don’t force them to eat it
I have given this advice so many times over the years. If your child is a “picky eater”, don’t force them or have a negative connotation with them not eating the food. Instead, make it pretty on the plate, and model that you and your family all eat the same plate. It has been proven that if you introduce the new food for two weeks, without forcing it, your child is more likely to independently try it. Seeing the food item over time helps desensitize them visually so they are able to see the food as a “non-threat” and will therefore be more likely to eat it. I tell parents you can also encourage your child to lick the food, smell the food prior to taking a small bite. Again, this helps your child understand that your expectations are not so demanding. That they are able to achieve a simple goal and build on from there.
4. Cook with your kids
Having your child prepare the meal with you is an important way to show that they are needed. Not only does this build their self-esteem, but it also helps them feel that they have some control. When everybody thanks them for the amazing job, their confidence goes up and they are more likely to participate and eat the food they prepared. Simple tasks such as rinsing fruits, slicing vegetables, or placing items in a pot are great ways to have your child show their independence and spark a little chef’s excitement.
5. Sensory play
Over the past 21 years of being a practicing occupational therapist, I have had many children who present with tactile defensiveness. What this means is when a child touches a certain texture, their brain interprets this as an overstimulation, causing them to have a negative reaction. Ways to improve tactile defensiveness are through touching various items in a safe and controlled manner. I usually start with a bin and add dry beans, dry rice, or a mixture of both. I encourage the child I am working with to fill a cup using a spoon, then pour it out. Place puzzle pieces or other preferred toys in it and have your child dig for them. One 4-year-old I worked with would gag at the sight of the rice. We introduced it slowly and over a matter of weeks, he was digging through the rice. I then told his mom to have him make rice as a side dish. I prefer Basmati rice because it has a nice aroma to it. Well, he ended up loving it and was so excited to pour the rice and watch it cook. These simple interactions are life-changing for many people. Keep it simple & fun.