By Gen Cohen
Ah, the picky eater phase — fun, right? Yeah, that's what we thought.
Fighting the war on picky tots is a daily battle for most moms, and honestly, it's totally normal. Toddlers are hardwired to be suspicious of new foods — that's just evolution doing its thing — but it can get extremely frustrating to consistently put new foods in front of your kiddo just to have them spit it back out at you or refuse to touch it.
Between the time your tot is sitting up and walking is when they will be most accepting of new flavors and textures. Kids are naturally suspicious of bitter and sour flavors (because it could be something poisonous or spoiled, respectively), so this is the time to introduce those — think citrus fruits and bitter veggies like arugula. They've been less exposed to "real food" by this point, so they are much less likely to have a drastic reaction — though we do suggest bibs for parents during this stage (long-range spitting, am I right?).
Kids who help their parents get dinner ready are much more likely to want to consume the food on their plates. Take it a step further and have them not only help you prep but cook as well. If you're feeling extremely ambitious (or your family already gardens), kids who can help plant seeds, grow fruits and veggies, pick them, and bring them into the house to be cooked are very likely to want to at least try what they worked so hard to help make.
Rather than giving your child a food to "see if he likes it," change your approach and go in with the mindset that they'll eventually like anything that you give them. During the sitting-to-walking window, a food only needs to be given to your kiddo around six times — within the window, but the closer together the tries, the better — for them to genuinely like it and want to continue eating it. Totally doable!
The bad news for parents of older tots that are already walking is that the number of times you have to introduce a new food increases from six to 89. We know, that's a lot, but think of it this way: if you serve one bite of the new food with every single meal the child eats (say peas, a commonly hated food), it'll only take about a month for their palette to adjust and for them to realize they actually like it. It seems like a long time, but you can do it with multiple foods at once, and it can get them eating something seriously healthy by choice.
Pro tip: the one-bite rule is the ultimate bargaining trick — if you "concede" and let them eat "just one bite," they'll think they're winning some kind of battle. Little do they know . . .
Quite possibly the best trick in Dr. Greene's book is this rule, which communicates to kids that before they can be finished with their meal, they have to have a bite of everything on their plate and must finish all of one thing of their choice. When this rule is employed, make sure to pack their plates with a bunch of healthy foods — mix in mashed veggies or something like a pouch for extra fruit and veggie servings in every food — that way, they'll be getting a little something of everything, but more importantly, whichever food they choose to eat all of will be great for them as well.
And if all else fails...there's always tomorrow.