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The Do’s and Don’ts for Dealing with Picky Eaters

At some point every parent has dealt with a picky eater. Whether it’s your fussy baby not wanting to nurse or your 3 year old toddler refusing to eat the meal you spent half the day slaving over; this can be incredibly frustrating. Many kids turn up their noses to foods that look gross to them such as casseroles, leafy greens, many vegetables, avocado, fish, beans, cottage cheese, eggs, and whole grains. Eating habits during meal times fluctuates greatly among children. Some days they clear their plates without any fuss while other days they may not seem to eat much of anything. Read on to learn some of the do’s and don’ts in dealing with picky eaters.

Do:
– Empower your child to get involved with menu planning, grocery shopping, and cooking. Children are much more likely to eat something if they’ve had a part in creating it. Allow them choose fruits and vegetables at the grocery store and encourage them to try new produce.
– Make meal time fun: Create smiley faces on the plate. Cut fruits and vegetables into fun shapes using a cookie cutter. Offer healthy dips such as hummus or other bean dips along side vegetables.
– Provide a variety of options to choose from. Serve small bowls of fruits, vegetables, crackers, whole grains, dairy and allow them to choose what they want to put on their plate.
– Be patient with new foods: Children are often hesitant to try new foods and may explore them by smell and touch before they are ready to actually eat it. If your child doesn’t eat something the first time, do not stop offering it. Your child might need repeated exposure to a new food before they will take the first bite. It may take 10-15 times before your child likes it.
– Start small: Encourage your child to take just one bite of the food to see if they like it. If they still insist they don’t like it, do not force them to eat it. Serve new foods along side of food they already like.
– Limit the snacks: Snacking too much throughout the day decreases hunger during meals. Don’t allow snacks for 2 hours prior to meal time to ensure they are hungry. Many parents of picky eaters tend to really push snacks and beverages in order to make up some of the calories and nutrients lost during meal time. Offer healthy snacks only (see previous post).
– Invite friends over for meal time. Kids are much more likely to eat something if they see their friend eating it too. Kids tend to copy other kids in so many ways so use it to your advantage.

Don’t:
– Force them to eat all of their food which may cause anxiety and frustration associated with meal time.
– Force them to eat if they are not hungry. Eating without hunger can alter their hunger and fullness cues and create poor eating habits later in life.
– Use food as a treat or reward for good behavior.
– Punish them for not eating their meal or trying new food. Again, this may cause them to associate meal time with negative feelings.
– Make deals with your child such as “eat just one more bite” or “if eat eat your vegetables, you will get dessert.” This will not work long term and may make them think they deserve a reward for doing everyday tasks.

What are your strategies for dealing with your picky eater? Please share!

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