What are some ways to handle a picky eater?
When it comes to the many challenges of parenting, many parents and caregivers say that having a picky eater is near the top of the list. Whether it’s a dislike of a certain vegetable or possibly a power struggle between a parent and child, there are many food-related obstacles adults must face to ensure a child gets the proper nutrition needed for healthy development.
But whether it’s a dislike or broccoli or a child just acting out, here are some tips to help a picky eater maintain a healthy and nutritious diet.
Limited snack time: One of the most obvious ways to ensure a child shows up at the dinner table ready to eat is to limit snacking. To make sure your little ones aren’t ruining their appetite, try and limit snack times to one in the mid-morning and one in the mid-afternoon—and be sure to choose a nutritious option like a piece of fruit, cottage cheese or non-fat yogurt.
Sharing the purchase and prep process: One way to get your child excited about healthy eating (especially with certain foods) is to bring her along for a grocery shopping trip or a visit to the local farmer’s market. If a child feels they are part of the food purchase and preparation process, the more likely they will be to try new foods at mealtime (even the healthy ones!).
Playing with food: Playing with food isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it comes to your kids. You can get a child interested in his or her dinner by making the food look appealing and fun. From buying colorful fruits and vegetables to arrange in a rainbow to cutting food into fun shapes using cookie cutters, you can help make food fun and appealing to even the pickiest of eaters.
No repeats: When a picky eater continues to show a dislike for new foods, a parent or caregiver might fall into a repeat cycle of serving a food item that the child does like. But when those chicken nuggets meals are repeated too much, the child will think that he or she doesn’t have to try new things. So, don’t fall into a trap of repeating meals favorite and keep trying a variety of nutritious alternatives.
Smaller portions: When trying to introduce a picky eater to a new food item, try and serve it up in smaller servings. Your child will be more inclined to try a sample of something new—and hopefully, she will learn to like it.
Don’t say the H-word: Nothing can make a picky child run away from the table faster than hearing the word “healthy.” But because we label sweets as “delicious” or “tasty,” children tend to think that “healthy” only refers to salads and vegetables. So try not to label food groups to avoid sending the wrong message.
Don’t force feed: Forcing a child to eat when they do not want to can often result in many negative consequences including the development of unhealthy weight or a child becoming even more of a picky eater. Instead of forcing a child to eat, try more gentle encouragement like, “Wow, this broccoli is so good. Have you tried it?” Also, small children can easily identify their level of hunger and fullness. If they are forced to eat those extra bites of broccoli, it may teach them to ignore their self-regulated feelings of fullness—teaching them the bad habit of eating even if they are full.
Finally, parents and caregivers should remember that it’s relatively common for kids to be picky eaters, especially between ages 2 and 4. However, if a child doesn’t outgrow their pickiness or if you feel your child is not getting proper nutrition, it’s best to seek help from a pediatrician or other healthcare provider.
Visit abcquality.org to learn more about child care and development, search for ABC Quality approved child care provider and learn about the state’s voluntary quality rating system. ABC Quality is administered by the SC Department of Social Services’ Division of Early Care and Education.
By ABC Quality Team on June 9, 2020