When I was a child, apparently, I was not a picky eater. I weighed 11 lbs. at birth (it was a natural birth too so my Mom qualifies to be Superwoman) and I was eating everything from peppers to lobster before the age 5. However, as I grew older, I acquired a fussy palette and ate only certain types of food. My pre-teen is a “selector” of foods; he will try it once and if he doesn’t like it, he won’t try or eat it again. My identical toddler twins are the typical picky eaters that could probably eat chicken nuggets everyday of their little lives.
Picky eating is a typical behavior for many preschoolers. It is simply another step in the process of growing up and becoming independent. However, trying to create meals that picky eaters will eat can be challenging. Parents usually have to create two separate meals to accommodate the picky eaters in their home, which is not cost effective or teaching proper eating habits.
1. Respect your child’s appetite — or lack of one
Young children tend to eat only when they’re hungry. If your child isn’t hungry, don’t force a meal or snack. Likewise, don’t bribe or force your child to clean his or her plate. This may only ignite — or reinforce — a power struggle over food.
2. Stick to the routine
Serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day. Nix juice, milk and snacks for at least one hour before meals. If your child comes to the table hungry, he or she may be more motivated to eat.
3. Be patient with new foods
Young children often touch or smell new foods, and may even put tiny bits in their mouths and then take them back out again. Your child may 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.
4. 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.
5. Recruit your child’s help
At the grocery store, ask your child to help you select fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. Don’t buy anything that you don’t want your child to eat. At home, encourage your child to help you rinse veggies, stir batter or set the table.
6. Set a good example
If you eat a variety of healthy foods, your child is more likely to follow suit.
7. Be sneaky
Add chopped broccoli or green peppers to spaghetti sauce, top cereal with fruit slices, or mix grated zucchini and carrots into casseroles and soups.
8. Minimize distractions
Turn off the television during meals, and don’t allow books or toys at the table.
9. Don’t offer dessert as a reward
Withholding dessert sends the message that dessert is the best food, which may only increase your child’s desire for sweets. You might select one or two nights a week as dessert nights, and skip dessert the rest of the week — or redefine dessert as fruit, yogurt or other healthy choices.
10. Don’t be a short order cook
Preparing a separate meal for your child after he or she rejects the original meal may encourage your child’s picky eating. Keep serving your child healthy choices until they become familiar and preferred.
Some suggestions to enhance foods for young children:
- Dip it. Young children think that immersing foods in a tasty dip is pure fun (and delightfully messy). Some possibilities to dip into:
fruit juice-sweetened preserves
Those dips serve equally well as spreads on apple or pear slices, bell-pepper strips, rice cakes, bagels, toast, or other nutritious platforms.
- Spread it. Toddlers like spreading, or more accurately, smearing. Show them how to use a table knife to spread cheese, peanut butter, and fruit concentrate onto crackers, toast, or rice cakes.
- Top it. Toddlers are into toppings. Putting nutritious, familiar favorites on top of new and less-desirable foods is a way to broaden the finicky toddler’s menu. Favorite toppings are yogurt, cream cheese, melted cheese, guacamole, tomato sauce, applesauce, and peanut butter.
- Drink it. If your youngster would rather drink than eat, don’t despair. Make a smoothie together. Milk and fruit along with supplements such as juice, egg powder, wheat germ, yogurt, honey, and peanut butter can be the basis of very healthy meals. So what if they are consumed through a straw? One note of caution: Avoid any drinks with raw eggs or you’ll risk salmonella poisoning.
- Cut it up. How much a child will eat often depends on how you cut it. Cut sandwiches, pancakes, waffles, and pizza into various shapes using cookie cutters.
- Package it. Appearance is important. For something new and different, why not use your child’s own toy plates for dishing out a snack? Our kids enjoy the unexpected and fanciful when it comes to serving dishes anything from plastic measuring cups to ice-cream cones.
Toddlers like to binge on one food at a time. They may eat only fruits one day, and vegetables the next. Since erratic eating habits are as normal as toddler mood swings, expect your child to eat well one day and eat practically nothing the next. Toddlers from one to three years need between 1,000 and 1,300 calories a day, yet they may not eat this amount every day. Aim for a nutritionally-balanced week, not a balanced day. (Find sample menus for preschoolers via the MyPyramid.gov: HERE)
With picky eaters, parents need to get creative when creating recipes that in “sneak” healthy foods. Some recipes for picky eaters, while sneaking in some nutritious foods, are available at the following sites:
Joscelyn, Owner of Mami of Multiples & Mami Innovative Media
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