Some kids will eat anything. Others require a covert cloak and dagger operation to get them to put new foods near their mouths. As babies all-too-quickly become toddlers, and toddlers become preschoolers, we have to ask ourselves an important question about the part we play in our child's eating habits: Are picky eaters just born picky, or are they unwittingly created by their parents?
"I think it's a little bit of both," says Erin Patterson, owner of Small Bites, a coaching organization that teaches parents how to make safe and healthy food choices for their children. "Toddlers are naturally suspicious of new foods. They like routine and predictability, and that makes it harder to introduce new foods. But how a parent handles this phase usually determines if the child will stay a picky eater or expand their tastes."
Patterson advises to take a monkey-see, monkey-do approach to expanding your toddler's palate. "The best advice is to lead by example," she says. "Sit down with your children at meals and eat the same things you'd like them to try yourself. Put out small portions of new foods along with some of their tried and true favorites. Let them reach their own decisions. If they see you enjoying the food, they'll be more curious and inclined to try it."
On the flipside, Patterson warns against forcing new foods on a toddler - even saying you made it just for them is too much pressure. "It's important never to push foods," she says. "Don't insist on their eating new food in anyway. It can really backfire."
So what about the all too common practice of sneaking foods (hiding peas in mashed potatoes, for example) in order to get at least some varied nutrients into your kids' diet? "The goal is to get your child to love all food - from veggies to ice cream," explains Patterson. "As long as you continue to present your child with the food option and giving them a chance to discover it on their own, there's nothing wrong with sneaking foods." After all, who hasn't tried at least once?