Children’s nutrition doesn’t have to be frustrating. Consider these strategies to avoid power struggles and help the picky eater in your family eat a balanced diet!
Is your preschooler refusing to eat anything other than chicken nuggets? Or would your toddler rather play than eat anything at all?
If children’s nutrition is a sore subject in your household, you’re not alone. Many parents worry about what their children eat…and don’t eat. However, most kids get plenty of variety and nutrition in their diets over the course of a week. Until your child’s food preferences mature, consider these tips for preventing mealtime battles.
1. Respect your child’s appetite — or lack of one
If your child isn’t hungry, don’t force a meal or snack. Likewise, don’t bribe or force your child to eat certain foods or clean his or her plate. This might only ignite — or reinforce — a power struggle over food. In addition, your child might come to associate mealtime with anxiety and frustration, or become less sensitive to his or her own hunger and fullness cues.
Serve small portions to avoid overwhelming your child, and give him or her the opportunity to independently ask for more.
2. Stick to the routine
Serve meals and snacks at about the same times each day. If your child chooses not to eat a meal, a regular snack time will offer an opportunity to eat nutritious food. You can provide milk or 100 percent juice with the food, but offer water between meals and snacks. Allowing your child to fill up on juice, milk, or snacks throughout the day might decrease his or her appetite for meals.
3. Be patient with new foods
Young children often touch or smell new foods, and they might even put tiny bits in their mouths before taking them back out again. Your child might need repeated exposure to a new food before he or she takes the first bite.
Encourage your child by talking about a food’s color, shape, aroma and texture, not whether it tastes good. Serve new foods along with your child’s favorite foods. Keep serving your child healthy choices until they become familiar and preferred.
4. Don’t be a short-order cook
Preparing a separate meal for your child after he or she rejects the original meal might promote picky eating. Encourage your child to stay at the table for the designated mealtime, even if he or she doesn’t eat.
5. Make it fun
Serve broccoli and other veggies with a favorite dip or sauce. Cut foods into various shapes with cookie cutters. Offer breakfast foods for dinner. Serve a variety of brightly colored foods. Chances are that you enjoy food and eating is fun for you — make it the same for your child.
If you’re concerned that picky eating is compromising your child’s growth and development, consult your child’s doctor. He or she can plot your child’s growth on a growth chart, giving you real-time data on which you can base decisions. In addition, consider recording the types and amounts of food your child eats for three days. The big picture might help ease your worries. A food log can also help your child’s doctor determine any problems.
In the meantime, remember that your child’s eating habits won’t likely change overnight, but the small steps you take each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.
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– CASEY EDMONDS, CHWC, CPT, CMS
Health Advisor | Email Casey