Children can become picky eaters for several reasons. Some children are naturally more sensitive to taste, smell and texture. Other children develop picky eating habits by modelling their parents’ fussy eating habits. Picky eating habits are more likely to develop when parents punish, bribe or reward their children’s eating behaviours. The goal of feeding a picky eater should be to try new foods and to keep food from starting a battle. As long as your child eats some food from the 4 main food groups (fruit and vegetables; potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates; dairy or dairy alternatives; and beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins) you don’t need to worry.
Here are a few tips that can help you to handle fussy eating habits in children:
Make Food Fun
Playing with food doesn’t have to be a bad thing. A child is more likely to eat colourful food, cut into fun shapes or paired with a dip. Of course, this often means more work for mom or dad, but if you’re desperate to get some variety into your little one, it might be worth it. Invest in cookie cutters that can create fun shapes out of sandwiches, create ants on a log with celery, peanut butter and raisins, or create a rainbow out of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables.
Variety: the spice
Offer a variety of healthy foods, especially vegetables and fruits, and include higher protein foods like meat and deboned fish at least 2 times per week. Help your child explore new flavours and textures in food. Try adding different herbs and spices to simple meals to make them tastier. To minimize waste, offer new foods in small amounts and wait at least a week or two before reintroducing the same food.
Reward schemes like a sticker chart in the kitchen can work well with older children. Make the chart yourself together, perhaps decorating it with pictures of their favourite characters. Give your child a sticker for eating new foods. When they have collected a few stickers, reward them with a prize. The first one should be easily attainable to incentivise your child.
Encourage more adventurous tastes
Picky eating is partly genetic. Some children are simply born fussier than others. But that doesn’t mean parents should just accept picky eating. Encouraging a diverse palate can help to counter this tendency.
Remember That Fussy Stages Are Normal
It’s relatively common for kids to be finicky eaters. A 2016 study found that just over 25 per cent of children between 1.5 and 5 years old are picky eaters. Children tend to be the pickiest between ages 2 and 4. If he doesn’t outgrow pickiness, talk to your paediatrician about whether he’s suffering from a sensory disorder that truly limits the number of foods he can tolerate.
Share a meal as a family as often as you can. This means no media distractions like TV or cell phones at mealtime. Use this time to model healthy eating. Serve one meal for the whole family and resist the urge to make another meal if your child refuses what you’ve served. This only encourages picky eating. Try to include at least one food your child likes with each meal and continue to provide a balanced meal, whether she eats it or not.
Don’t give up
You have to maintain a broad picture of your child’s eating habits and not just focus on one day. If your child is consistently avoiding nutrient-dense food – they are only eating white foods like pasta and milk and not eating any green or red vegetables at all – you might want to consider nutritional supplementation to help get them through this period.
Don’t Force Your Child to Eat
Many adults have suffered long-lasting emotional and physical consequences as a result of being required to clean their plates, such as obesity, food addiction or anorexia or bulimia. Encourage your child to eat, but don’t require her to sit at the dinner table all night before she’s excused from the table.
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