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Tips for Feeding Your Picky Eaters

February 25, 2016

Tips for Feeding Your Picky EatersLet’s face it – kids can be quite resilient when it comes to having their own opinions regarding their food. While it shouldn’t be expected for your little one to love exotic food dishes at a young age, introducing new foods to children can become a power struggle for picky eaters. Even though feeding time can seem like a battle ground for parents, all of the Children’s Wellness Center pediatricians have kids ourselves and have a come up with a few tips for feeding your picky eaters that we have found helpful over the years!

Lead by example. Children are really good at observing and emulating the words and actions of adults, so setting a good physical example when eating with your children can only serve to further encourage healthy food choices throughout their life. Mealtimes should be a fun occasion where you can spend some quality time away from the television and enjoy each other’s company. If you show disdain for a particular food item or share negative sentiments about the taste, your children may pick up on the behaviors associated with the negativity (ie. not finishing their food or not even giving the dish a try and just assuming they won’t like it either). Just remember that they’re always watching and their growing minds are like sponges, soaking everything up in the process, so teaching proper nutrition at a young age is great for long-term success.

Make mealtime fun. Getting your kids involved in the meal prep portion can get them more excited and willing to experiment with their food. Part of the fun of cooking is being able to take frequent taste tests and this is a great way to have them at least try it alongside you. Let your kids feel important in mealtime decisions by having them help decide what vegetables to pair with the meal (do they want green beans or do they think cooked carrots would taste better?) or what fruit to mix in the salad for dinner. If you are the kind of parent that likes to plan healthy meals on a weekly basis, create a clever menu and have the kids help plan what is for each day. Whatever you do, never force your child to eat. As parents, we never want our kids to go hungry but breaking bad eating habits are going to be much harder if you cater to their behavior. Instead, be sure to make it clear that what’s on the table is the only option for their meal and if they don’t want it, there’s a chance they could be hungry without finishing their food. As much as their sad faces may tug at your heartstrings, don’t cook them separate food from everyone else or an alternative afterwards.

Get creative. Obviously small children aren’t necessarily going to benefit from fun food designs because infant food introduction doesn’t include a five-course meal, but older children can certainly find this method appealing. Time challenges can factor into the presentation of meals but think about a child’s likelihood to get excited for a heart-shaped sandwich versus the same square sandwich that’s served at lunchtime? Yes, carving an apple to mirror a cute kitten takes time (kudos to you if you’re that skilled) but there are a lot of pans, cooking utensils, food decorations, etc. that could make meals more fun for them. If it becomes a staple for enjoyment, they’re less likely to focus on what they “don’t like” and more on the novelty of eating Mickey Mouse shaped pancakes piled high with fruits.

The key to dealing with picky eaters is patience and lots of positive reinforcements. Remember, it’s just a phase and eventually your child will outgrow this type of “food defiance!” Don’t be hard on yourself as a parent though, yes your child needs a balanced diet with fruits and veggies to get the energy they need to grow up strong and healthy, but they’re kids and have such energetic minds of their own. With a little guidance from their trusted role models, mealtime can be made fun again.

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