How to Encourage a Picky Eater…and Avoid Mealtime Battles

July 24, 2018

Posted in: Health and Nutrition, Parenting Tips

Does your child push more food around on their plate than they put in their mouth? Do they only want to eat the same thing, day after day? If so, you’re not alone.

Picky eaters can be frustrating but are all too common, especially when it comes to young children. Experts say that once children turn two, their awareness of the world around them explodes. Suddenly, they realize that certain textures (mealy or mushy, for instance) and tastes (bitter and spicy, typically) don’t appeal to them.

Subsequently, they choose to stick to foods they find comfortable. These “comfort” foods are oftentimes carbohydrate-heavy, like macaroni and cheese, pasta with butter, and french fries, making it challenging to introduce new and healthy meal options to the menu.

Nodding your head in agreement?

Try these helpful tips to expand your child’s diet:

  1. Avoid mealtime battles. When dinner descends into World War III, your child gets upset, you get upset and the food gets cold. If it’s control your child wants, fighting about what gets eaten gives him or her a greater reason to clamp down and show you who’s the boss. Don’t succumb! If you’re sensing an ongoing tug-of-war, consider giving your child some control—within reason. For example, during your next visit to the produce department of the grocery store, point to three different fruits and ask your child to pick the one they want to try with dinner.
  2. Never resort to bribery—it doesn’t work in the long run. Steer clear of phrases like “If you eat three bites, you’ll get dessert” or “If you clean your plate, we’ll buy you a new toy.” This sort of lingo is common around the kitchen table of a picky eater, plus it makes really boring dinner conversation and exacerbates the control game your child is playing. Instead, take the opportunity to learn what your little one doesn’t like about a certain food, and draw similarities between the new foods you are incorporating to the ones he or she already likes.
  3. Avoid letting your kids have snacks before meal time. When your child fills up on empty calories from snacks like chips, crackers and juice, it makes your job of getting them to eat wholesome foods at meal time that much more challenging. If they complain that they’re hungry before it’s time to eat lunch or dinner, give them a glass of water, because often they mistake hunger for thirst. If they continue to complain, offer up healthy choices, like raw veggies or fruit, along with a variety of nutritious dips, such as Greek yogurt or hummus, to make it more enticing.
  4. Demonstrate healthy eating habits. Set a good example by modeling healthy eating habits for your child. For example, make sure you’re eating a protein-filled breakfast, like eggs and whole wheat toast with nut butter or sunflower butter, and not chowing down on sugary cereals. Children will feel more inclined to eat well if they see you eating well too.
  5. Keep trying. Experts say children may need to be exposed to any given food a dozen or so times before they are willing to try it. And even then, they may need to try a new food at least five times before deciding if they like it or not. Don’t give up on the Brussels sprouts or peas just yet! In the meantime, to make healthy foods more appealing, consider “dressing up” unfamiliar foods with items they know and love. Think cheesy sauce with broccoli, whipped cream with strawberries, marinara over zoodles, etc.

We hope that these suggestions help alleviate some of the stresses associated with your picky eaters! What are your favorite ways to get your kids to broaden their food horizons?

Take a look at our Suggested Literature

 

D. W. the Picky Eater, by Marc Brown

Tales for the Very Picky Eater, by Josh Schneider

The Picky Eater (Little Boost), by Betsy Parkinson

 

Thank you for reading along, as we work together in raising the next generation of amazing kids!

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