Sometimes the simplest strategies in life can be the most effective. This certainly is the case with the successful strategy to help picky toddlers and preschoolers try new foods that I’m sharing with you today. So, what is this strategy? It’s: don’t serve the same food two days in a row. Let me explain…
As many parents of toddlers and preschoolers will tell you, 2 – 5 year olds like to eat the same foods every day. The technical term for this is a ‘food jag’. If it was up to them, they’d love to have exactly the same breakfast every day, exactly the same lunch every day, exactly the same snacks every day, and exactly the same dinner every day. We don’t know why this is so. But it is developmentally normal.
I see many well-intentioned parents happily give their kids the foods that they ask for – especially when they are healthy choices. But there are two problems with allowing kids to “choose what’s on the menu”:
- It can lead to unbalanced diets. Kids this age don’t understand that they need to eat a balanced diet. So they can’t take that into account when choosing what they want to eat. They simply want what they want.
- It can contribute to kids getting stuck in picky eating.
At this age when kids happily eat the same foods, we, the responsible adults, need to take the long-view. We need to encourage kids to be open to trying new foods. A way to do this without any battle or force-feeding, is to not give your child the same food at the same meal or snack two days in a row. This doesn’t mean that you need a 14 day, rotating, gourmet menu. It can be as simple as alternating between toast and oatmeal at breakfast. And, it can be as simple as rotating amongst apple slices, strawberries, and an orange at snack time.
If you’re just starting your baby on solid foods, awesome, you’re in the best position! Make this a rule from the very beginning. You’ll help prevent picky eating as your baby grows in to a toddler and preschooler.
What about if you’ve already got a picky toddler or preschooler on your hands who is firmly entrenched in the habit of having the same food every single day?. Here’s what to do (this also works for school-age kids too):
- Step #1: Write out a list of every food that your child will eat. Organize your list by food group.
- Step #2: Pick one meal or snack. Create a plan for next week where, at that particular meal or snack, you rotate amongst the foods your child does like. For example, say your child likes cucumber slices and raw baby carrots. But for packed lunch at daycare you always pack raw baby carrots. This week, for your child’s packed lunch at daycare, you pack raw baby carrots on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. On Tuesday and Thursday, you pack cucumber slices. Do this for 2 – 3 weeks for your child to become accustomed to the change.
- Step #3: Move on to a different meal or snack. Or, move on to another component of your child’s packed lunch. For example, say your child likes both no-nut butter sandwiches and cheese sandwiches. But for packed daycare lunch, you always pack no-nut butter sandwiches. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, pack a no-nut butter sandwich. On Tuesday and Thursday, pack a cheese sandwich. Continue this for 2 – 3 weeks.
- Step #4 and Beyond: Repeat this process until your child is seeing a rotation of different foods for each component of their meals and snacks. At any time after step #3, introduce new foods instead of just rotating amongst their current favourites.