by Laura Berthiaume May 24, 2022 9 min read
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
There’s two categories of picky eaters:
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.
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:
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.
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.
Food waste is a real problem but I find a few things work well:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
It’s ok to say no too. You can remind your kids that too much sugar doesn’t make our bodies feel good.
If your child is struggling with picky eating, I highly recommend you follow Danielle on Instagram for more free info. She has two accounts:
If you want 1-on-1 help she also offers:
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