By: Sapna Fliedner MSN, HHC
When your little one has you dreading dinnertime due to her picky nature, take solace in the fact that kids aged 2 to 4 are hard wired to question what they put in their mouth—it’s a normal part of development. And while that pickiness normally starts to subside after age 5, there’s a lot you can do to in the interim to make mealtimes more pleasant—and make sure you raise a good eater.
–Involve your child in your meal. Have her grocery shop with you or visit the local farmer’s market, so she begins to understand where food comes from. Once you are back in the kitchen, have her help prepare the meal. Kids are more likely to be interested in eating dinner if they helped participate in its creation.
–Gardening- If you can plant a small garden or window herb planter, they will benefit greatly. When children see the fruits of their actions, they take responsibility for their own eating habits.
–Refuse to be a short-order cook. Make one meal for the entire family instead of caving to your child’s demands for “kid” food. Think of it this way: your child is invited to enjoy the parent’s meal. It should never be the other way around.
–Make mealtimes routine. By serving dinner at roughly the same time every night and sitting together at the table without distractions you send a signal that mealtime is a priority.
–Never force it. Studies show the more times you expose a child to a food—roughly 10 to 15 times—the more likely he is to like it. Don’t give up on carrots until you’ve offered them repeatedly. And don’t force the issue with your child. If he’s not interested in a food you’re serving, don’t pressure him to eat it and don’t make a fuss. Just offer it again in a day or so.
–Forget “clean platers.” Requiring your toddler to clean her plate before leaving the table just sets you up for a battle. Instead, allow your little one to choose what and how much she eats from the healthy options you serve. If a child comes to the table hungry enough, her innate hunger mechanisms will guide her to eat until she is satiated.
–Don’t bribe with dessert. By rewarding a child with a cookie for eating his broccoli, you cement the idea that healthy foods are “bad” and sweet foods are “good.” You can avoid this common trap by treating all foods neutrally.
–Above all, set a good example. No child will eat and enjoy peas if her parents blatantly dislike them. Therefore, more than anything else, you can encourage your child’s good eating habits by modeling healthy habits yourself.
I would say say the most important thing we did with our kids was feed them what we were eating. They have been eating broccoli since they were one and love it. We also cook globally. One night we would cook Indian food, another night it would be Thai, or Vietnamese, Chinese, American, Mexican or Italian. So my children have developed a taste for world cuisine and actually love to try new foods. Make a game out of it. Play the music of that country, have your kids find it on the map and cook together that region of food.
As long as your children can chew the food, there is no reason their menu at home and restaurants should look any different than yours. That way they will have the opportunity to experience the textures and colors of ‘real’ food and not become partial to the soft, white food kids are usually offered….i.e. mac n’ cheese, chicken nuggets, etc.
In fact, one time when we were eating out at a nice healthy restaurant in L. A. my children asked what is on a children’s menu as they never have ordered from one. I told them they could ask for the kids menu at this particular restaurant as they were healthy, organic, etc. They ordered a pizza and said it was the worst pizza they ever tasted. I asked what was wrong with it and they said everything. “It was only a plain, bland tasting pizza with no toppings! NO basil, oregano,garlic, olives, tomatoes.” I told them that’s probably how most kids eat.
If you are still having trouble, I recently read about a new game called “Crunch a color” The object of the game is to get reward points for trying a new color of food. These points can be used for Date with mom, a new book, etc. Just don’t reward with food! I am not a fan of rewards given to eat food, or even food rewards for doing other things (good grades) but if you are desperate, this may work for you as each person’s situation is different.
Your children are smart! Please talk to them. I find that explaining to them why you are making these changes, really is the best way. This is what I have done with my kids. Tell them that you love them and are concerned about their teeth and their bodies and want them to grow up to be healthy and feel well. They may not like the changes, but by understanding this, they will always come back to this as they grow up.
Most importantly, don’t give up on your children. It takes 10-15 times for a child to like a food. The most important habits are formed early in life and they will have a long healthy childhood full of vitality.
If you are struggling with your picky eater, I am teaching a class on Jan 26th, 10am at the office (Rossignol Medical Center in Aliso Viejo). You can read more/sign up here: https://raisingsagespediatrics.com/nutrition-wellness-services/the-picky-eater/