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We've all seen kids who decide that the only thing worth eating is a chicken nugget. Or a bowl of pasta. And that's it. Oh, the picky eater, the child who asserts that he likes only a few things and refuses to let his tongue touch anything else. The real issue, of course, is not one of taste but one of control. To avoid future food wars, try these strategies to avoid raising a picky eater:
- Provide lots of choices, and don't be afraid to parallel cook. If Junior never eats fish, then have a different protein available and encourage eating fish when there is positive peer pressure to try it. For instance, when Junior's best buddy, whose parent has told you he eats fish like a champ, is coming over, plan to have fish for that meal. Observation of peers and older siblings or cousins can be a powerful motivator.
- Food repetition is okay, as long as there's balance overall, or a multivitamin makes up the difference. Children may go for days, weeks, or months wanting only peanut butter and jelly, or whatever the latest taste preference may be. While it may drive you nuts, look on the bright side: You've got an easy meal that goes down without a fuss. Choose organic fresh peanut butter made from only ground peanuts, available at most health food stores; the emulsifiers in commercial peanut butters stimulate latent allergic tendencies.
- Keep exposing her to new healthy foods; some may stick. Try food games like: "How many raisins can stick to a celery stalk filled with cream cheese?
- When you feel a battle coming on, take a step back. Will your son be scarred for life if he does not eat two more carrots?
- Add a daily multivitamin. This provides an insurance policy against an imperfect diet. But read the label: Some brands recommend a half vitamin for children under two and a whole tablet for those two and older, while other brands recommend one vitamin for under age two and two tablets for those over two.
Here is our advice:
- Start early: Children form habits that make them picky eaters. Habits are hard to break. You are better off if you can prevent the habits from forming. At the very first signs of finicky behavior, explain to your child that it is not healthy to eat the same foods all the time. Serve a good variety of foods at meals, and encourage your young ones to taste new foods. New food choices can be described as "special treats.”
- Include them: Children are more likely to eat something that they have helped make, so get your children involved in preparing meals. You can also take them shopping and teach them how to find and select foods. Involving your kids in making decisions reinforces that you care about their opinions and want to make things that they like. Never ask "Do you want broccoli for dinner?" Offer choices like "Do you want broccoli or cauliflower for dinner?"
- Set goals: Be realistic about setting goals. It is not realistic to try to force your child to eat a whole serving of food that they claim not to like. Instead start off with small expectations, like one bite of the new food, and work your way up from there.
- Be consistent, firm, and don’t give up: Use the same tactics at each meal. Put new foods on your child's plate first. Remind your child of the goal and offer plenty of encouragement. Don't give in to stubbornness. It may also work to try "Look Mommy (or Daddy) will try a bite with you."
- Don’t rush meals: It is quite likely that your child is a slow eater, and this is a good habit to encourage. Offer your child plenty of time to eat a meal.
- Praise: Even if it is just one nibble, congratulate your child. Ask them if they thought it was tasty. If the say "no," tell them it may take a few bites to notice the delicious flavor or suggest maybe it would taste better with ketchup on it. Don't let them shutdown the thought that this food may actually taste good someday.
- Be a good role model: You cannot expect to raise children that eat a good variety of healthy foods if you do not. This fact goes for all adults who sit at the table with your children. Your toddler learns from watching and mimicking you. You may have to venture out of your own comfort zone of eating and try new foods yourself.
- Above all, don't scold your child or get mad if they don't eat new things right away. Some kids just need a little more time to try new foods. Eating should be a pleasurable experience.
Watch as Dr. Mike Dow gives strategies on how to avoid raising a picky eater.
This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.