“Just one more bite.” “Please, just try it.” “No dessert until dinner is eaten.” Are these familiar phrases at your home during meal time? You are not alone!
Studies have shown that at any given age, between 13% and 22% of the children were reported to be picky eaters. So what can parents do to manage their picky eater with love? Try these 5 tips for helping picky eaters get the nutrition they need:
- It’s okay to say no. Part of showing love is setting boundaries early on. Say No to regular sweets, sugary drinks and fast food, and present these foods as “special occasion foods.” If your child can understand, explain why making these changes is important. If you are concerned that your child’s picky eating is affecting their health, consult your doctor. Sometimes a food log can be helpful to assess how much the child is actually eating, which can ease anxiety.
- Feed your child the same foods you eat. As long as your child can chew the food, and they do not have any childhood food allergies, there is no reason why they should eat differently than their family. Further, eating together models appropriate eating behaviors. Keep a routine by serving meals and snacks around the same time every day. Don’t become a short order cook by preparing a separate meal for your child after they reject the food being served. If your child does not like the meal provided, continue to offer the options available and ask your child to stay at the table until the end of meal time.
- Don’t keep a hidden candy drawer. Many times pediatric patients will come to the clinic and I learn that they are eating junk foods kept in the home “for so and so’s sweetooth.” Children naturally have a hard time regulating themselves and candy, cookies, cakes and other sweets are hard to say no to (even for adults) when they are readily available. Very simply, if the junk food is not in the house, the child cannot eat it. Treat sweets as they should be treated: a once-in-a-while food rather than an everyday staple.
- Get your child involved in the cooking process. Children who are involved in the preparation (safely) of foods are generally more likely to eat them. You can start at the grocery store by asking for your child’s help with meal prep and recipe planning. Some older children enjoy planning recipes while younger children like being artistic (think ants on a log). It may take longer for the meal preparation to happen, but chances are they will be proud enough of their creation to take a bite (or maybe two)!
- Be patient. As frustrating as it is, studies show that it can take a child anywhere between 7-20 exposures to a certain ingredient before he or she starts to feel familiar with that food. Encourage your child to touch, smell or even just kiss a new food. Perhaps the child will slowly start to put tiny bits into their mouth and it is OK if they spit it out. Repeated exposure helps to familiarize your child with the food’s color, shape, aroma and texture. Serve new foods along with your child’s favorite foods so there is always something familiar and something new to try.
Have you dealt with a picky eater? What has helped expand your child’s food horizons?
Skylar Griggs MS, RD, LDN is a Clinical Nutrition Specialist for the Preventive Cardiology Division at Boston Children’s Hospital. For other fun and healthy family meal tips check out her blog: http://nutritionforboston.com/.