Food messes are encouraged - try to get your toddler to pick, touch and smell different foods, using these products. Image Credit: Unsplash/Tanaphong Toochinda

Crunchy vegetables, soft peas, a monochrome plate – little ones are very particular about what foods they’ll allow into their tummies. Toddlers from the age of two like sticking to food groups they’ve already seen, smelt, touched and tasted. Anything new, and mums and dads are met with a disinterested baby. Does your child stick to white-coloured foods, like milk, bread and rice? Or, are they fond of a particular texture the most? You might be tempted to add more of these to the plate, but food exposure is extremely important for picky eaters, says our expert. And your child’s first foray into new foods can be made much easier and mess-free, if special kitchen utensils and helpers are available to them at the table.

Food neophobia: Why is my child a picky eater?

The occasional turning up of the nose at broccoli or beans does not describe a picky eater. It’s only when kids start refusing certain groups of food altogether that parents grow concerned.

“A child who’s a picky eater will not want to try anything beyond, say, the 20 foods they like. They’ll neither try nor are interested in anything else; this results in tantrums at the table and sometimes becomes a health concern when the list of rejected foods gets longer,” said Nida Shamim Khan, a Dubai Health Authority-licenced clinical dietician with paediatric expertise at Neuropedia, Dubai.

If a medical professional has ruled out other causes, like poor gut health and feeding difficulties, then your child most likely has food neophobia. “It’s a fear of trying out food that looks different, like khichdi (South Asian rice and lentil dish) or tacos, where the ingredients are combined, and it’s hard to eat,” added Khan. She also says that picky eating can even surface in the weaning phase, when the baby is six to eight months old. “At this stage, they’re too sensitive to unfamiliar textures and smells, and have chewing difficulties, which can lead to picky eating.”

How can my child outgrow picky eating?

Invest in a high chair, suction plates and a kitchen tower for more engagement with food. Check out other expert suggestions below. Image Credit: Unsplash/kazuend

Tweaking lifestyle choices and eating habits at home can help. Mums and dads can start by reducing excessive liquids (milk and juice) going into the diet. Though it can be tempting to closely watch what your child has or hasn't eaten, Khan says the attention can be overwhelming. The same goes for plating unrealistic portion sizes.

“If the child is just disinterested, we tell parents to make whatever the baby likes nutrient-dense,” she added, but noted how crucial it is to expose them to new foods, as well. “When they see unfamiliar foods on their plate, they’ll touch it, smell it and, at least, try it someday. But if it’s out of sight, then it’ll be out of mind, too.”

While it might not seem promising at first, food play can make mealtimes so much more interesting for picky eaters. Khan suggests cutting vegetables and fruits in animal shapes, making up games as you stack up cucumbers, preparing chia seed edible slime or even inviting the tiny chefs to make their own meals.

It all begins with a kitchen that’s ready to help your child outgrow picky eating. From short-handle first spoons to messy mats, here’s how you can introduce new foods to fussy eaters, according to Khan. Shop with Amazon Prime to avail next-day, free delivery on some of these products.

1. NumNum Pre-Spoon GOOtensils Baby Spoon Set (Stage 1 + Stage 2)

Your baby’s first spoon should always have a short handle. It makes scooping up the food easier. Khan prefers the NumNum spoon set that grows with your child, from the age of six months to 18 months. Each pack offers a silicone weaning spoon for beginners, with raised textures for teething, and a stage-two spoon for toddlers to scoop up soft solid foods, post-weaning. “This spoon set works well with sensory issues, since it doubles as a teether, and helps children understand different textures,” said Khan. Reviewers mention how it’s allowed their kids to smoothly and safely transition to regular spoons over time, and gives them mealtime autonomy, too.

2. Tiblue 24 Sandwich Cutters

Parents of fussy eaters can’t stop raving about these Tiblue sandwich and fruit cutters in the reviews. Introduce food play to toddlers with snacks cut into the shape of a star, heart, dinosaur, rabbit and a bunch of other cute animal friends. They come in a pack of 24, where each sandwich cutter has a smaller version to match with the size of your bread. The blades are food-grade 430 stainless steel, paired with an easy polypropylene plastic grip to help you get a clean cut. These are a solid hit with kids’ lunches.

3. Chicco Polly Easy High Chair, 6M-3Y, Giraffe

Parent modelling during mealtimes has a significant impact on the little ones. “I always say that the parents should look into the family (mealtime) setting. If you take your meals on the floor, make the child sit with you. Similarly, meals at the table need a dedicated high chair for your toddler,” said Khan. When buying a high chair, it’s important that the child has good leg support, allows a 90-degree posture and is at a comfortable height in relation to the table. The Chicco Polly East High Chair is completely adjustable, with seven height settings for the legs and three for the footrest. Its backrest can, too, be reclined in three different positions. Mums and dads can put it to use from the age of six months, all the way to three years.

4. WeeSprout Suction Plates with Lids for Babies & Toddlers, 3-Pack

Toddlers explore as they eat, so they might push away their plates to indicate when they’re done eating. Oftentimes, this results in chaotic table space and a stained high chair. Khan says a stress-free solution is to serve meals in suction plates with dividers. This way, parents can expose them to a ‘balanced’ plate, one that has liked, disliked and neutral foods. Our pick is a pack of three WeeSprout suction plates with lids, to go on the high-chair tray or the dining table. Do note that since they’re made of silicone, the plates do require extra care to rid them of food smells. Each divided section has edges high enough for scooping food easily, without mixing it in with other sections. Mums and dads attest to the strong suction grip in the reviews.

5. Squooshi Reusable Food Pouch, 12 Large

Khan also recommends reusable snack pouches for yoghurt, applesauce and other pureed foods. For the picky eater who prefers this texture over others, squeezable pouches work well and cut back on spills. Squooshi offers a family pack of 12 on Amazon, complete with adorable animal mascots on each, from penguins to pandas. Spoon the puree into the opening at the bottom, seal it with the zipper and the pouch is ready for on-the-go snacking.

6. WOMUMON Splat Mat for Under High Chair/Arts/Crafts, 130cm 

Consider a splat mat, if you’re investing in a high chair. “Let the child create a mess, but if you’re worried about spills, spread a messy mat under the high chair that you can stick into the washer later,” said Khan. The non-slip splat mat by Womumon is waterproof, covers enough ground and doesn’t bunch up under the chair. Reviewers report back with success stories, with the mat having prevented stains on their carpet and the kids becoming fond of the cute patterns.

7. Kitchen Step Stool for Toddlers

Get your little helper to prepare meals and snacks together with you, on a kitchen step stool for toddlers. While it’s an excellent activity for exposing kids to new ingredients, you’re also keeping them engaged as they wait, without unnecessary screen time. ElliBel’s A-shaped step tool is suitable for children aged 18 months to four years. Constructed from pine wood, the stool has two steps and a large opening to make climbing in and out easy. Its legs are fixed with anti-slip strips for a sturdy floor grip.

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