Mealtime frown faces can be tough. The “picky eater” is the child with a short list of foods they will eat due to texture, taste, and visual preferences. Changing taste buds and appetites are a natural part of growing up, so don’t be alarmed when your child says every vegetable is “icky.” Not to be confused with more serious eating disorders, the picky eater will often eat enough but can fall into an unhealthy BMI for his/her age.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, for ages 2 years and older, a menu that primarily relies on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and nonfat dairy products, beans, fish, and lean meat. So to keep appetites high for main meals, limit juice, sweet treats, and fatty snacks too close to meals times as that curbs hunger and limits nutrition. Meals and snacks should be offered at regular times and for most children that could be 2-3 hours between snacks and meals.
Here are some ways that you can help your picky eater develop more sophisticated taste buds:
- Make meal time relaxed and happy – Avoid forcing, begging, pleading, bribing, and “never leave the table” commands. Defiant picky eaters will cry, refuse to eat or use standoffs that will wear you out. But most seriously, they may develop unhealthy food habits for years to come. A caregiver’s role is to serve healthy meals, encourage tasting and not be pushy.
- Model good eating habits – Kids learn from us so be a good example and, as often as possible, have meals with them where they see you eating these healthy options. When old enough, have them plan and cook meals with you. For children who can’t yet read, use pictures of recipes, or kids cookbooks to propose meal ideas.
- Keep children exposed to foods even if they don’t like them – Pediatric nutrition experts agree that offering a different meal to a picky eater will not help them change, nor will not serving them those “icky” foods. Offering a variety of colorful foods can encourage them to eventually taste and enjoy healthier choices. Try serving a familiar or favorite choice at every meal and watch for texture preferences. A child may eat raw carrots and spinach but will not eat them cooked.
Pediatric Dietitian and mom, Katy Yurman, says she often reminds parents to link the benefits of healthy foods to what matters to a child. For example, “Milk will give you strong bones and teeth.” Of course, if you have a child that consistently refuses to eat healthy foods or has no interest in eating, and the pediatrician has weight or growth concerns, ask to be referred to a nutrition expert such as a Registered Dietitian.
Today we welcome guest blogger, Donna DeCaille MS, RDN, LD, who is a pediatric dietitian and owner of a pediatric nutrition practice, Envision Nutrition Inc. To see more, visit her blog, Nibble On Something Healthy (N.O.S.H).