Wish meals didn't feel like a constant negotiation?
Danielle Binns is Certified Nutritionist and a "picky eating" expert. She works with families to make mealtimes fun by helping children become more receptive to trying new foods.
We love her because her approach to picky eating is child-led and perfectly aligned with Montessori.
Below are the most frequently asked questions she gets about picky eating and her answers.
If you have any follow-up questions for her, you can email her at email@example.com.
How do you get kids to try new foods?
It’s not an overnight process. Research shows it can take up to 42 steps before a child is willing to try a new food, depending on the eating challenges your child is dealing with. Your typical child will need fewer tries and exposures, while other children with “picky eating” tendencies may take many many more.
The first step is for parents to understand that they need to remove the stress and pressure from mealtimes. If your child comes to the table every night primed for a fight, then it will be very difficult to get them to try new foods. A big part of what I do is provide families with fun ways to explore food.
Before kids taste something new, they have to be comfortable with how it looks, smells, and feels.
This means that a child might need time to explore a new food with their other four senses before tasting it.
To do this, we start by exposing them to different foods on the table, so all they're doing is seeing it.
Next, we encourage kids to get their hands on it. I know it’s generally frowned on to ‘play with food’ but I try to help parents see that this gives children an opportunity to interact with the food in a low pressure way. Allow your child to feel the food with their hands, smell it, squish it, or lick it. Don't worry about having them eat it right away.
Simply give them control over the exploration process.
Most fights with children are just because they want some of the control. If you can find a way to do that during mealtimes then your children will be much more receptive to trying new things.
You can also allow them to serve themselves, choose their portion size, or decide how much of a new food they’ll try.
My Curious Cookie Food Adventure Mat is another way to give children a fun, low pressure way to explore new foods. This mat turns makes trying new food into a game, engaging their sensory system in baby steps, so they're excited (not anxious) to taste new foods without a fight.
You can find the mat here but you can also think about ways to try this approach out on your own. When a new food is on the table, play a detective game with your child to explore all the characteristics of the food. Is the food crunchy or slurpy? Sweet, sour, or salty? Slippery or rough?
Remember that eating is the ONLY human task that uses all of the sensory systems. We can't expect your child to try a new food if they haven't had a chance to get comfortable with it and prime their senses.
I firmly believe recurring mealtime battles are likely never going to improve unless you remove the pressure. So think about what you can do to make eating fun and light before you worry about any of the details.
What if my child doesn’t eat mixed textures?
I know that mixed textures can be difficult for many children, but start with where your child is at. Look at the current list of foods your child enjoys and add items to those foods.
You can combine foods in a simple way, using their favourite foods as the base, like adding peas in their rice or chicken in their pasta. Even if they want to pick out the additions, this is still progress because it’s on their plate.
What if this approach doesn’t work? What if I’ve tried everything?
There’s two categories of picky eaters:
Developmental Picky Eaters - This starts around 12-18 months and is a normal fear of new foods. While this isn’t serious, it is something you want to deal with sooner rather than later because 1-2 out of every 4 picky eaters will end up as picky adults. My approach to making mealtimes fun should work quickly with this group. If it’s not, then the child might be a Selective Picky Eater.
Selective Picky Eaters - These are children that have a genuine anxiety around food. They likely have some sort of oral motor issue, sensory issue, or have a negative association with eating (likely due to a previous situation such as reflux, or choking). There is some underlying cause of picky eating for these children and it’s likely you need to address that first. In this case it’s best to talk to your doctor or a Certified Nutritionist that works with children.
How do you avoid making separate adult and children’s meals?
This goes back to my answer to the first question. Kids need to be exposed to new foods before they taste them. If you eat separately from your kids or are making them entirely different meals, they’re going to be much less likely to expand their palates.
I recommend making meals you and your partner want to eat and add something that you know your child will eat, like a side dish, to ensure they’re not going to leave the table hungry or come to the table stressed out.
Then add in some fun activities to encourage them to try or engage with the dish you’re eating.
How do you ensure they are getting all the necessary nutrients daily? Is a multivitamin necessary?
It’s always better to get vitamins through food. Foods are perfect little packages of vitamins and minerals that offer optimal nutrition in a way that the body understands, whereas supplements are manufactured/synthetic forms of vitamins.
Synthetic nutrients are manufactured in a lab and are different from the same nutrients found in nature. Synthetic vitamins can have the same chemical constituents, but still have a different shape that the body doesn’t recognize.
It’s also worth noting that when a vitamin is marked “natural”, it only has to include 10% of actual natural plant-derived ingredients. The other 90% could be synthetic.
I’ve also found that some children’s multivitamins have such small amounts of each vitamin that it doesn’t make a notable difference. That being said some children benefit from:
Fish oil (cod liver oil)
It’s best to talk to a professional though before starting your child on a supplement.When I work with families, I have them keep a food journal and then I make a recommendation based on that.
What you can do is keep a food journal for 1-2 weeks to look at your child’s overall nutrition and share it with a professional. Sometimes you might have 1-2 days ‘bad days’ but you also might be surprised at the variety of foods they’re eating when you zoom out.
How do I get my kids to eat more meat or protein?
It’s important to understand that animal proteins are the most difficult food to eat from an oral motor perspective so if young children are struggling to eat meat, there are ways to introduce it that makes it easier, for instance on a skewer, cooked in a crock pot, or in a nugget.
There’s also lots of vegetarian protein options, like chickpeas, nuts, hemp seeds, eggs, or cheese.
Some children also do require iron or zinc supplements but I would only suggest them after completing blood work and reviewing with a doctor or completing a food journal and evaluating in the context of any symptoms the child is experiencing.
It’s also important to note that calcium blocks iron absorption so try to avoid milk with dinner. This will make it that much harder for children to get what they need from iron rich foods, such as animal proteins.
Milk and other dairy products are good for snack time, but I generally recommend having water with meals. Water won’t fill you up (and displace nutrients from whole foods) like milk does.
How do you navigate all the food waste associated with picky eaters?
Food waste is a real problem but I find a few things work well:
Back to my response to question 4 about making separate meals for picky eaters, work towards eating the same things so that you’re ok saving the leftovers and eating them. I find most of the waste happens when parents don’t want to eat the kid-friendly foods they’ve prepared.
Have your child take smaller portions. You can allow them to serve themselves but understand that some waste will be part of the process at first, as you are getting them to try new things. It will get better.
What should I do if tv is the only way to get my child to eat something nutritious?
This is not a great long-term strategy because it develops distracted eaters. These children will grow up not paying attention to the food they’re eating and consequently, not paying attention to when they feel full.
We want to raise mindful eaters that taste and enjoy their food.
It’s a hard habit to break but it’s essential because these are habits that will stick with them for life.
Again, this goes back to my answer to question 1, do what you can to make mealtime fun and light. One easy and quick way to do that is with theCurious Cookie Mealtime Fun Cards, which includes over 50 quick food games, food exploration activities, and fun questions that encourage kids of all ages to explore different foods without a fight.
They include activities like:
Have a sword fight with your green beans. The winner gets to take a bite of their bean.
Wear a red pepper ring as a bracelet.
Give this food a lizard lick.
Balance your food on your nose, forehead, or tongue. Who can keep it there longer?
No need to get creative or second guess what to say to your child (to get them to explore foods), when you have the Curious Cookie Cards.
Do you ever recommend toddler formula?
Only in extreme circumstances. Most children should be able to get all the nutrients they need from food.
If this is something you’re considering, I recommend talking to a nutritionist first to see what other options you have.
Should you offer a snack after dinner?
I only recommend offering a bedtime snack if there's a big enough gap between dinner and bedtime. Usually at least 1 hour between dinner and a snack.
Also, make sure it is "filling not thrilling" in the words of Ellyn Satter. In other words, make it balanced. If your child loves the snack or it's easy to eat, then what's the motivation to eat their veggies and beans at dinner? They can wait a little longer, and fill their bellies with their favourite snack.
How do you recommend offering treats and sugar so children don’t become so obsessed with it?
Humans evolved to want higher calorie, high sugar foods because we didn’t always have such easy access to food. We needed to fill up on calories when they were available.
Now sugar is an arm's length away at all times.
My approach is balance. I encourage parents to avoid restricting sugar and treats because it often makes children more interested, leading them to binge when they have the opportunity.
Instead, offer these types of foods in a balanced way. I do this in two ways:
I will also sometimes offer treats before my kids ask for them. This lets them know that there’s nothing wrong with these foods. When the ice cream truck came around recently, I suggested we get an ice cream before my kids even asked!
It’s ok to say no too. You can remind your kids that too much sugar doesn’t make our bodies feel good.
Need more help?
If your child is struggling with picky eating, I highly recommend you follow Danielle on Instagram for more free info. She has two accounts:
The Picky Eating Protocol - A 6 week proven step-by-step program for raising a healthy eater and having stress-free meals. These are foundational strategies every family needs to have in place.Email Danielle for the application. Doors only open 3x a year.
Raising Adventurous Eaters Club- A monthly membership for parents who want to see their child explore more foods without a fight, but need structure and a plan. Includes monthly food inspiration, recipes, strategies for picky eaters, with ongoing inspiration and support with a community of parents in your shoes.
Curious Cookie Cards andPlacemat - These popular products deliver Danielle’s best strategies in a fun, bite-seize way. So parents don’t have to work so hard at meals to help their kids learn to like (and try) new foods faster.
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