In my clinical experience of working with families who have toddlers, I see parents struggle with encouraging their kids to try new foods. It’s easy for parents to get into a rut of serving the same foods. And it’s even easier for toddlers to join them in the rut by refusing to eat anything outside of their preferred meals. This can create what is called a ‘food jag,’ which is a vicious cycle that decreases your child’s willingness to try new foods. If you feel like your little one only eats a select list of foods, use some of my feeding tips to help you break the food jag cycle!
Offer new foods early: Start offering baby new tastes and textures early so when he/she becomes a toddler there are more food flavors and options to choose from. I like to use the ezpz Mini Play Mat, which is an all-in-one mat + flower petal compartments that is perfect for exposing hesitant eaters to a variety of foods! Here are a few feeding and early intervention ideas using the Mini Play Mat:
- Colors: Offer a variety of food in five colors (there are five petal compartments on the mat to make this simple and quick) and then add a dip (yogurt, ranch dressing, peanut butter, etc.) in the middle.
- Textures: Try exposing your toddler to an assortment of textures. Does your child like crunchy textures? Then try carrots, baked snap peas, crackers, cereal or crushed nuts. Does your child avoid gummy textures? Have your child explore a variety of gummy textures during snack time, like vitamin gummy bears, raisins or fruit roll ups. Having some texture experiments can be a fun way to help your child expand their food repertoire!
- Dips: Let’s face it, kids will eat more if we provide them with dips like ranch dressing or ketchup. So, I like to use these condiments sparingly with other foods while allowing them to indulge when introducing new foods.
Try food crafts: Exposing toddlers to new foods through craft projects are a perfect way to calm anxiety and prevent food jags. Edible crafts can help prepare a kiddo for what you are serving for dinner and foster an enjoyment for new tastes!
- Play: Want to change up their mac & cheese to a different type of pasta? Try painting the new pasta, sorting and counting it, or making pasta necklaces. These play activities expose children to new foods by crafting instead of eating, which helps them gain familiarity with the foods (and increases the likelihood that they will eat it!).
- Fine Motor: The dimensions of the Mini Play Mat’s compartments are perfect for improving your toddler’s pincer grip and fine motor skills. The high lip of the mat captures water, pasta and other edible materials. It can also hold non-food crafting materials like markers, washi tape and stickers to make snack-bag crafts your kids would love to eat out of!
Promote their independence: Do you know that kids are more likely to eat meals and snacks they help make? Here are a few ideas to help promote your child’s independence and ward off food jags!
- Build: Kids love to help make meals, especially if they can control what goes in it! Use the Mini Play Mat to set up a sundae bar, taco station or sweet potato bar. This will give your child some power around mealtime, which sets the groundwork for adventurous eating.
- Snacks: If you teach your kids to help make their own snacks, it nurtures their self-help skills and increases the likelihood of them eating a healthy snack! These culinary activities can inspire them to make different choices, learn about new tastes, and discover a ratio of ingredients that will please their palate. Give my 5 Ingredient Trail Mix Formula a try for an easy recipe with your kids!
Whether your child just started food jagging or has been refusing new food for years, I hope these tips help improve mealtime. Let us know how you have to prevented food jags. #ezpzfun #miniplaymat
Dawn Winkelmann (M.S, CCC-SLP) is ezpz’s Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist and Feeding Specialist. She has 28 years of experience teaching parents and medical professionals how to start babies on solids safely and encourage toddlers to overcome picky eating tendencies. In addition, “Ms. Dawn” is the designer of our award-winning feeding products.