Many parents have heard the familiar sounds of “ewww, I’m not eating that!” It happens to me every time my child sees anything other than macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly on her plate. It can be a frustration to parents who worry that their children are not getting the proper nutrition they need every day. The good news is that most kids will grow out of this phase by age five or six. Until that time there are some methods you can apply to help your child eat a well rounded diet.
Children can learn picky eating habits by watching how their parents eat. Some learn these habits from their peers. If they hear another child proclaim something to be “yucky” they may believe it. Other kids are just naturally sensitive to different textures and colors of foods and will only eat what seems familiar to them. Children may also use picky eating as a way to assert their independence.
Parents often begin to worry when their child simply seems to not be eating. When they are infants they eat around the clock and always seem to be hungry. When children reach toddler-hood their rapid growth slows down and they don’t require as many calories. When looking at your child’s food habits remember their need for calories is not as great as yours. They require far fewer calories each day to grow and remain healthy than the average adult. You can begin by teaching your child good eating habits early in life. Feed them plenty of fruits and vegetables and encourage them to try new foods at a very young age. Steer clear of high sugar and high fat foods for as long as you can. The very best way to do that is to simply not offer them in your home. Eating habits learned early will stick with your child for life.
Never force a picky eater to try something new or to clear their plate. If a child feels forced they will develop bad connotations with that particular food and they may never try it. Instead offer it to them on a regular basis. After awhile you may be surprised to find they will try it on their own. Offer a variety of healthy options with each and let them choose the ones they wish to eat. If you try to force your child to clear their plate they will develop a bad relationship with food that may lead to obesity. Refrain from using foods as rewards. This will teach them to use food as a control tool.
Toddlers will find it refreshing to “help” with dinner. This works very well in my household. She may not eat much of it but she will, at least, give it a try. Allow them to participate in the preparation of a meal and they will be more likely to try the new foods you are offering to them. Keep mealtime light and happy. Lead your child by example. Taste a food and let them know you like it and you are glad you tried it. Don’t give in to requests. Let your child they have the option to choose between the items you have prepared but you will not be making something special just for them. If you give in to this you will find yourself making six different meals at a time for one family. Only offer a small drink with dinner. Tell them they will not get anything else to drink until they have eaten some of their meal. Quite often children will fill up on drinks and have no room for their meal.
Set a defined schedule for meals and snacks. Do not allow them to eat in between these times. This will help them understand hunger and to listen to their bodies signals. Don’t worry too much if they miss a meal. Children will never starve themselves; they will eat when they get hungry. If your child is of a good weight and seem healthy you shouldn’t worry. Consider a multivitamin if you are convinced a diet of macaroni and cheese and peanut butter sandwiches just doesn’t cut it. If you do think your child is underweight or appears to be weak take them to see a doctor immediately. Your doctor will be able to tell you if your child is unhealthy and can offer solutions to your problem. Though my own picky eater has me worried she is thriving. Perhaps there is more to peanut butter and jelly than I know.