It seems picky eaters have been troubling parents and caregivers for at least the last half a century. So, trust me, you’re not alone in your battle to get your child to eat healthy food—or to eat at all. The nutrition module goes into detail on how best to feed your children from day one to prevent picky eating, but here are 5 quick tips to get you started if you already have a fussy eater in your home.
1. Keep meal and snack times calm. Allowing them to become a battleground will only make things worse for your picky eater. Instead, if your child chooses not to eat what is being provided or decides to throw a tantrum, simply excuse him from the table. Remind him of appropriate mealtime behavior and that you expect he’ll do better at the next scheduled meal or snack.
2. Don’t give up! Children proclaim that they dislike foods at the drop of a hat! This is no reason for you not to offer that food to your little one again. Research shows that it takes 10-20 tries of a new food for a child to accept it—and likely even longer for her to like it. So, encourage a simple mealtime rule where everyone is expected to take one bite of everything offered. If your child doesn’t want more of her cabbage, that’s okay, but encourage her to try it next time.
3. Consider your child’s likes and dislikes without making him special meals. Who has time to make a separate meal for each member of the family? Very few of us. What’s worse, is doing this only keeps your picky eater picky. Rather than making separate meals, simply keep your picky eaters preferences in mind. Making pork chops for dinner, but they are on Junior’s “no way!” list? Make sure you offer a side dish that you know he does like, such as potatoes or rice. As long as everyone eats something at mealtime, you’re doing just fine.
4. Don’t bribe your child to eat or reward your child with food. Both send the wrong messages and only make picky eating worse. Bribing (“if you eat your peas, you get to watch your favorite show”) discourages your child from paying attention to her own hunger cues and causes her to eat to please you rather than eating to nourish her growing body. Rewarding with food (“if you clean your room, you can have ice cream”) only increases her desire for already desired foods. General rules: 1. Never bribe a child to eat. If she doesn’t want to eat at a given meal, she’ll eat later (see #5). 2. Reward children for good behavior with non-food items (like stickers or small toys) or desired activities.
5. Remember that no healthy child will starve himself. You may need to say that statement to yourself 100 times before you actually believe it, but it’s true. Healthy children who are growing well will not starve to death. Typically if your little guy refuses dinner, you can count on him waking up good and hungry for breakfast, so make sure to offer a nourishing meal then. Children with hungry bellies eat the food that is available to them.
Keep in mind, following these tips won’t convert your picky eater to a good eater overnight. It takes time, a whole lot of consistency, and A LOT of patience. If you have a 4 year old who is choosy about her food, the goal is to have her eating a wider variety by the time she’s 5 or 6. Hopefully, by the time she’s school age she’ll be eating an even wider variety of foods and eventually be a healthy teenager and adult. Good eating habits start young, so starting to combat picky eating now is in the best interest of you and your child. Good luck!
For more tips visit: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/preschoolers/picky-eaters.html
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Kathy Ireland, MS, RD, LDN is a clinical dietitian for the NFL clinic as well as the clinic coordinator. As a dietitian with NFL, she helps families make the necessary lifestyle changes to achieve a healthier weight. Whether talking about food, fitness, or parenting skills, Kathy always strives to motivate families to make the changes most relevant to them and creates a personalized approach to weight management for each family.
A proud native of Brockton, MA, Kathy graduated from the University of New Hampshire before earning a graduate degree in nutrition from Penn State. Her master’s thesis focused on proper feeding practices for pre-school aged children. She completed her dietetic internship at the Hines VA Hospital outside of Chicago, IL. Kathy has also received a certificate in pediatric weight management from the Commission of Dietetic Registration. When not working, Kathy can be found on the roads of Boston training for the Boston Marathon, running local road races, biking, hiking, or staying in her apartment cooking up a tasty (and healthy!) meal.