For the McMorris family of Happy Valley, Ore., the dinner table was a nightly battlefield. The familys oldest child, Tristan, 6, is a picky eater, which for years made dinnertime anything but enjoyable.
Early on, I thought it was merely a matter of his being stubborn and testing limits, says Kristina McMorris, 35, and I wouldnt let Tristan leave the table until he finished X number of bites. While it was sometimes unpleasant, McMorris says, most nights it worked. But then came the chicken standoff.
We sat at the table for two hours and 15 minutes in order to get him to eat three bites of chicken, she recalls.
To avoid future battles, McMorris and her husband, Daniel, 38, sought out ways to promote sampling food while maintaining a positive environment. They came up with a dinner table motto: You dont have to like it, but you have to try it.
Joanna Dolgoff, a pediatrician in Roslyn, N.Y., calls that her two-bite rule.
I encourage parents to expose their kids to a variety of foods from an early age, Dolgoff says. Children must try two bites. If they dont like the food, they do not have to eat the rest. The mistake parents often make is giving up on a new food after just one trial. It typically takes at least six to eight exposures of a new food before children will accept it.
Kids have more taste buds
Children are more sensitive to taste because they have five times more taste buds than adults, says Dolgoff, author of Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right. Whereas a piece of fish may taste a little bit fishy to an adult, it could be extremely fishy to a child, she says. This is the reason many kids prefer mild foods.
I dont think you can make a child less finicky but you can make life easier by understanding that picky eating is a normal stage of development, says Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, a dietitian in San Diego. Children learn how to eat a variety of food the same way they learn how to read and write. It takes time, exposure, no pressure and family meals.
The McMorrises reward Tristans food sampling by posting on the refrigerator a list of foods he likes and foods he has tried. Together we celebrate the ever-growing lists, McMorris says.
Here are more tips from Dolgoff for feeding a finicky eater:
- Lead by example. Try new foods yourself.
- Serve a variety of foods from an early age.
- Introduce new foods in dishes such as casseroles or stir-fries, which may disguise a particular taste that a child might not like.
- Select foods that are healthful and varied, such as multigrain breads or cereals.
- If your child doesnt like a particular food after 20 or more tastes, you can move on. Your child truly may dislike the food.