Helping Nannies Support Picky Eaters by Gail Goldspiel

My neighbors are parents of a toddler and good friends of mine. As I recently got married and do not have my own toddler yet, I’ve learned of some of the many challenges and adventures that come with parenting. To name a big one facing parents and nannies: the perils of picky eating.

Picky eating is something I had seen before as a preschool educator. In my private school classroom in New York City, the 4 and 5-year-olds were quite particular about the foods they ate. Most did not like their lunches, which I found to be impressive and appetizing compared to the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I often had growing up. My young students often just wanted their dessert, their friend’s lunch, a classroom snack, or nothing at all. They noticed when the morning snack was prepared differently and often voiced which item they preferred and which they did not before it was even snack time. Looking back, some students were quite picky, and some were not, but all of the students were unique, one-of-a-kind, and had lots of interests, even if one of those interests didn’t always happen to be food.

When I see my friend’s toddler now, he is happy, laughs often, loves trucks and is discovering the delightful world of dinosaurs, (including the sounds they make). But the one thing he does not seem to be so fond of is eating. Some weeks he has loved pasta, but then he did not want it anymore. Then it was cake, but that faded too. One week he ate three slices of warm bread, but then it was back to no more bread. His parents discovered that he loved snack foods: Nutri-Grain bars, cheese sticks, you name it. Through it all, like all parents, they wondered what they could do to encourage their child to eat healthfully and enjoy it at the same time.

Tips to Help with Picky Eaters

Any of this sound familiar? According to Harvard Health Medical School, there are techniques we should employ and ones we should try to avoid, all while remembering that being positive, upbeat and enthusiastic when it comes to eating will always help. Forcing our children to eat is probably not the best idea nor is encouraging the age-old “clean plate club.” One idea that resonated with me is involving children in grocery shopping, meal planning and prep. When going shopping with them, take them along, have them feel and pick the fruits and vegetables, and include them as an integral part of the process.

Maybe one way we can think about helping our picky eaters, is balancing our approach with both play and purpose, simultaneously. We can have fun trying out new techniques with a toddler, while also being intentional and purposeful. As Child describes, parents can make a game out of trying new foods with their kids, and even try activities like food bingo. In this way, they can embrace and demonstrate being adventurous and show that they themselves are open and excited to try new foods, too.

As Dr. Katherine Dahlsgaard, clinical director of the Picky Eater’s Clinic at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) suggests, remember that picky eating is “developmentally normal, especially between ages 2 through 4.” Additionally, according to Dr. Dahlsgaard, retrying foods is key and “research says it takes 8 to 15 times to introduce a new food before your child will accept it.”

Through it all, it is important to remain calm and patient, not give up and keep trying, while also remembering picky eating is a very normal part of early life. For nannies interested in learning more about child nutrition, you can enroll in the Advanced Nanny training and Childcare program which includes several nutrition courses and nutrition for child athletes.