5 Dietitian Tips for Feeding Picky Eaters
Picky eating is very common during the toddler years, which may cause parents/caregivers to worry that their child’s picky eating could result in a lack of vital nutrients. Have you fallen into the routine of making separate meals for your child, pressuring them to take just one bite, making dessert a reward for eating dinner or using technology so that they will just eat something? No judgment here, we are all learning and doing our best to raise healthy, happy kids!
Here are my favorite dietitian approved strategies that can help:
Don’t give up! It’s important to reintroduce foods, even if your child didn’t like them the first few times (some children need as many as 20 exposures before eating a new food). Present the food without any pressure to eat it by remaining neutral and letting the child explore. Praising for eating certain foods teaches children not to listen to their own bodies and can be counterproductive. Your job is just to make and serve the food, the child can decide which items to eat. Sometimes it helps to present the food in a new way either by preparing the item differently or giving it a fun name or shape.
Pair the familiar with the unfamiliar. When foods that are unfamiliar are served with a familiar food, the child is more likely to try the unfamiliar food. Don’t force the child to try the new food, just present the meal and (again) the child can decide which items to eat. Sometimes this looks like including chickpea noodles with the noodles they are used to eating or serving peas next to the corn that they usually eat.
Cook and/or grocery shop together. Having your child help you pick out items to try at the grocery store or assist in making a meal can peak their interest for the new food. Growing a produce item and/or bringing your child to a farm that allows you to pick your own produce can also increase the likelihood that they will want to try these items. The more children are exposed to new foods, even by looking at them in pictures decreases the fear of trying the new item.
Offer your child a choice of items. Children enjoy feeling like they are the ones to make the decision. If you have a few options for vegetables you can ask if they would like broccoli, cauliflower or green beans instead of just serving one. You can even involve your child in the meal planning process. If you often plan meals on Sundays, for example, you can ask for a few items they would like to include this week.
Sit down and eat with your child. This is my number one change to make with clients. Your child wants you to relax and enjoy mealtime together. Think of some topics to chat about that are not food. My family likes to start dinner with what we were grateful for that day. It takes the pressure off focusing on what your child is or is not eating and puts the focus on family being together. They also see you eating the food that they are nervous or hesitant about and may decide to try it.
Your child can eat the same healthy foods that you and the rest of your family are enjoying. Try to include vegetables, fruit, grain products, a source of protein/iron, calcium and fat. The key here is to offer the foods without pressure to eat. Children are great imitators and if you are eating a healthy variety of foods, eventually they will too.
If a child is failing to gain weight, has extreme food selectivity/refusal or digestive problems it is important to see your pediatrician and consult with a pediatric dietitian. A pediatric dietitian can also be useful for typical picky eating to help with tips personalized to your child and family needs.
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