There are few things more frustrating at dinner time than having a picky eater sitting at the table. It can be challenging to provide them with nutritious foods that they’ll willingly eat and many parents of picky eaters will avoid making dietary changes fearing that their child will refuse to eat. However, even small changes to what they eat and how they eat can make a big impact on their nutrition.
Evaluate your child’s diet.Is their diet lacking in a specific food. Maybe its vegetables they’re refusing to eat or is it meat that they’re boycotting? Eliminating an entire food group can definitely be problematic and if this is the case making some changes should be a priority. However, if their diet is balanced and doesn’t contain a lot of processed foods, then even a diet with limited variety can be very nourishing.
Don’t force them to eat.Eating when not hungry can cause mixed signals. This can prevent children (and adults) from knowing what hunger and satiety feel like. Many adults can attest to the fact that being forced to “clean their plate” has followed them into adult hood. Not being able to leave food uneaten can lead to unnecessary and unwanted weight gain. Let them eat when they are hungry and stop eating when they are full.
Are they actually hungry when its time to eat? Drinks and snacking can influence how a child eats their meals. Often children will spend the day sipping on juice. Most love the taste but along with providing an excessive amount of sugar, it can also cause them to feel full. Many children also practice an eating style called “grazing”. They tend to snack on small amounts of food throughout the day every few hours. To many parents it may seem like they aren’t eating enough or when the family sits down to a meal that they’re being picky. Grazing can present a problem when the foods they are snacking on are processed and refined foods such as crackers, boxed cereals and cookies. When these nutritionally deplete snacks start to take the place of real foods its time to reassess when and what they are eating.
Don’t insist that they should be eating something they really don’t like. Everyone has their own specific likes and dislikes. Introduce foods in a calm easy-going attitude and celebrate when they try something new – even if they don’t like it! Try to be patient. Studies show that it can take up to 10 tries for some children to become familiar enough with the smell, taste and texture of something new. So keep revisiting foods that noses were turned up to in the past.
Children are eager to learn. Take them grocery shopping and teach them about the benefits of different foods as you shop. Once they have even a basic knowledge about nutrition ask their opinion on which are the healthiest foods to buy. Don’t forget to be a role model. Studies show that when mom and dad eat fruits and veggies so do their children.
Find out the foods that they like. Try to provide them with a couple of options before starting the meal. If their favourites aren’t high on the nutritional scale use it as a learning opportunity and try “cleaning up” those foods.
Our tastes are constantly changing and evolving. When children are involved in choosing, preparing and expressing their own thoughts and ideas about the foods they eat, even picky eaters can be healthy eaters.