Do you have a toddler who seems to live on goldfish and cheerios; or a pre-school aged child who seems to exist solely on foods that are white in color? You are not alone. There are plenty of children who once consumed a wide variety of wholesome foods as infants who downright refuse to eat anything with nutritional value as they grow older.As I still say to my own children, “It’s my job to offer you healthy food but it’s your job to actually eat it. I won’t force you.” This is my mantra because I think it’s important to try to avoid stress during mealtimes. The family meal is supposed to be an enjoyable time to delight in delicious flavors, and an opportunity to share smiles and to interact with each other.
Here are a few tips for picky toddlers:
1. Lead by example:
Let her observe you eating a wide variety of colorful foods. Allow her to experience your “ooh’s” and “ahh’s” as you enjoy your meal.
2. Encourage independence:
Show her how she can feed herself—she will probably delight in the accomplishment.
3. Limit nutrient poor snacks
to after mealtime, and try to save the cup of milk for after the solid food is consumed.
4. But most importantly, be patient:
Many times it can take more than 10 tries before you can really tell if a child doesn’t like a particular food.
For the picky pre-school aged child:
1. Engage the child in the meal planning, shopping, and preparation:
This helps the child to feel in control. Plus, the participation increases the sense of ownership and pride in the meal. Flip through some magazines or watch a food channel program together to decide what to make and then cook it together. Or, allow your child to pick out the food at the grocery store. I recall a trip to the store where I asked my daughter to choose a vegetable she had never tried before. She picked baby bok choy. She and my husband sautéed it with some garlic and olive oil. She absolutely loved it that night and has continued to enjoy it ever since.
2. Aim for a family meal
(whenever possible): A major turning point in my house was the family meal. Once my children were old enough to have dinner with us, they abandoned mac and cheese and chicken nuggets and began to enjoy what were we eating. Again, this is where leading by example comes in to play.
3. Try to avoid bribes and negotiations:
They just turn the meal into a power struggle. Remember, your job is to offer the food, and it’s your child’s job to decide to eat it. If she does not like what’s offered, resist the urge to negotiate and suggest that she help herself to something nutritious in the kitchen (this can be a yogurt or an easy for her to prepare sandwich). The key is to avoid being the short-order cook who caters to every child’s desire.
If despite your best efforts, you are still left with a child who refuses what is offered, know that time does make a difference. Keep mealtimes stress free and continue to prepare a variety of healthy food. One day you will be pleasantly surprised when it’s consumed.