There is hope for dealing with your picky eater

September 02, 2016 | by Uzma Muneer, D.O.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

Does your child refuse to eat anything except hot dogs, chicken nuggets or pizza? If your child is a picky eater, you’re not alone.

Selective (or picky) eating is common in young children. Many kids will grow out of it. But some go on to form unhealthy habits into adulthood. With nearly one-third of American children overweight or obese, it’s important for parents to establish healthy eating habits in their children early on. Read our blog about helping your child overcome childhood obesity.

Getting your picky eater to eat healthy doesn’t have to be an insurmountable task. Here are some tips:

  • Introduce a variety foods in multiple ways – With each meal, serve a food your child enjoys along with a new food or one he or she has refused to eat in the past. Try different foods from the same food group. Or, add healthy elements to favorite foods. Mix grated zucchini and carrots into muffins, pasta or soups. Offer blueberry pancakes, fruit with cereal, broccoli in spaghetti sauce, smoothies with veggies mixed in, etc.
  • Be patient with new foods – Your child may need to be exposed to a new food a few times before he or she tries it. (It can take up to 15 times before a child actually accepts a new food!). Continue to offer other healthy items along with your child’s favorite. Eventually he she will tire of the same food and try something new. Keep the portions small so your child has a chance to ask for more.
  • Get creative with it – Try different presentations and cooking methods. Try slivered carrots, steamed carrots, shredded carrots, mashed carrots, etc. Make a smiley face out of veggies or cheese on top of a casserole. Kids like to pick up foods, so offer healthy finger foods. Cut foods into interesting shapes. Serve veggies with a favorite dip or sauce. Offer breakfast foods for dinner.
  • Involve your child – The more involved your child is in the process, the more likely he or she will be willing to try the foods. Invite your child to help with the grocery shopping and choose the fruits or veggies he or she likes best. When you get home, have your child help with the meal preparation by rinsing off the food or stirring, and setting the table.
  • Don’t cater too much to your child – Don’t get in the habit of preparing a separate meal for your child if he or she rejects the original. For each meal, serve up a few healthy options, with at least one of the foods something you know they like. If they skip a meal, don’t panic. Most kids get plenty of nutrition in their diets over the course of a week.
  • Set a good example – You can’t expect your child to eat well if you’re not eating well yourself. Be a good role model by keeping unhealthy foods out of the house. If it’s not there, your kids can’t eat it. Instead of chips, cookies and sugary drinks, have cheese and whole-grain crackers or apple slices with yogurt on hand.
  • Stick to a routine – Most kids thrive on routine so try to serve meals around the same times each day. Don’t let your kids fill up on snacks right before a meal or they won’t have an appetite for the main course.
  • Eat as a family, at the dinner table – This can be difficult in today’s world, but it’s so important. Make it a point to eat at least one meal together as a family at least 3 or 4 times a week. Turn off the TV and don’t allow tablets, phones or other distractions at the table so your child can focus on eating. Have your child stay at the table during mealtime even if he or she doesn’t eat.
  • Don’t cut out treats altogether – Remember, everything in moderation. If you don’t allow any treats, your child will be more likely to overeat when they get them or develop unhealthy habits later. Pick a few nights a week as dessert nights, or make fruit, yogurt or other healthy choices the dessert.
  • Try not to make a big deal about it – If your child isn’t hungry, don’t force them to eat and try to stay calm. Kids know when they’re full, so don’t insist they finish everything on their plate. You don’t want to have a power struggle over food, or for your child to associate mealtime with anxiety and frustration.

While your child’s picky eating can be frustrating and worrisome, remember that you are in charge. Your child is going through a stage that will eventually pass.

If you're concerned that picky eating is affecting your child's growth and development, talk to your child’s pediatrician. Sometimes picky eating is associated with symptoms of anxiety and depression in children and a visit to a professional counselor or food therapist can help.

Do you have any advice for parents of picky eaters? We would love to hear your thoughts in the below comments!

Learn more about children’s services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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