So your toddler has decided to subsist on a diet of crackers, chicken nuggets and orange juice. (Hey, at least there’re some vitamins in there, right?) It turns out that there’s actually a name for your little one’s fussy habits (and it’s not The Orange Food Diet). When a child limits his or her eating regimen to just one or a couple of foods, you’ve officially entered “food jag” territory. Here’s how to deal.
Why is this happening? “Kids can become picky for many reasons, but it's important to realize that it is a normal part of development. Especially around the toddler years, it’s normal to be suspicious of new things—including some foods,” explains Dr. Natalie Muth, pediatrician and co-author of The Picky Eater Project: 6 Weeks to Happier, Healthier Family Mealtimes. Other possible reasons your little one is being fussy? She’s testing out her independence (the word “no” is really fun).
So, this isn’t my fault? Nope. And although it might feel like every bite is a battle now, rest assured that this too shall pass. But Dr. Muth stresses that how you react to your kid’s food jag can play an important role in how long the pickiness sticks around. Whipping up a second dinner, for example, is a quick fix that might actually make things worse in the long run.
What should I do? “If parents realize that pickiness is normal and are able to 'roll with it'—without catering to the pickiness but also not forcing the child to eat foods—then the pickiness is a phase that kids work through,” says Dr. Muth. Your best bet is to continue serving a variety of nutritious foods and lead by example. A recent study from Loughborough University in the UK also found that limiting distractions (like toys and TV) during meals and giving kids some input into food choices can help them become less picky eaters. Sorry, Paw Patrol.
Is my kid going to hate vegetables forever? If your child doesn’t like broccoli the first time, don’t give up. Repeated exposure to foods can cause our taste buds to change—and according to Dr. Muth, it can take 15 to 20 tries of something for this to happen. Hey, you probably weren’t such a huge fan of spinach when you were a kid, either. But now you know that the healthy stuff is the best stuff (case in point: these brussels sprouts recipes or these cauliflower dishes).