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Preventing Picky Eater's: The Experts Weigh in! | Wednesday's in the Know

Photo: Getty Image Stock

Photo: Getty Image Stock

We have all been there! A relaxing evening turns into a “I DON’T WANT THAT!” Today, I offer some top strategies for preventing picky eaters while setting yourself for success! 

My Top 5:

1.     Start Young: It’s best to start when young, but it’s never too late! Sorry, that “I give up” excuse won’t fly with me! 

2.     Be a Positive Example: Kids eat by example so if you’re not eating it, why should they?

3.     Make it Taste & Look Good: If it doesn’t taste or look good, can you really blame them? Food should be fun, delicious, nutritious and exciting.  For starters, think about serving their meal on a cool fun plate or placemat to make it “fun.”

4.     Preference vs. Picky:  Yes, we all have preferences of what we like and dislike, put cilantro in front of me I wouldn’t want to eat it, but often kids don’t know what they don’t like and can discover delicious new flavors if they are encouraged and know there isn’t another option or choice.

5.     One Family, One Meal!  Kids–when of appropriate age–should be eating what the entire family is eating! You start making modifications now, kids know they have a choice and differentiating picky vs. preference will become a very fine line! 

Now, that’s my two-cents. Here are a few key strategies for eliminating picky eaters from the pro’s! 

Dr. Tanya Altmann, Today show:

1.     For kids who aren’t big fans of fruits and veggies: Serve your family those things, eat them yourself, and consider your job done. Your job is not to force your child to eat it, just to prepare and serve it.

2.     Don’t micromanage how your child eats. You (the parent) put the food on the table. The child is in charge of how much she will eat and if she wants to eat at all.

3.     Avoid the 2 Bs: bribing and begging! I once heard someone advise offering a child $20 to try a new food — what a terrible (and expensive) idea! Don’t bribe your child to eat. Don’t beg them, either!

4.     Keep trying. It can take at least a dozen times (even just on the plate) for an older toddler or child to accept a new food.

5.     Don’t worry about the actual amount of vegetables being consumed. Instead, throw your energy into making delicious meals and snacks that include yummy veggies.

6.     For kids who will only eat fast food or fried or battered chicken, learn to cook the chicken or other foods at home, and set a frequency limit on how often you will allow yourself to buy those items. It can also be helpful to have a “washout” period where you completely stop going to the desired restaurant for a few weeks.

7.     Very small kids shouldn’t be controlling what you buy and make! Just change what you buy at the grocery store. When my kids were very young and would ask about a certain brand, I’d tell them the store had been out of it.

8.     For cereal, dump it all out of the colorful boxes and into clear hard plastic, tall cereal containers. This is especially helpful for kids who love the characters on sugar-sweetened cereal boxes.

9.     Understand that most food marketed to kids hooks them in every way. They love the taste, the packaging, the sameness (the fact that it always looks and tastes the same), the reliability and the excitement of bright foods made with artificial colors. Instead, buy foods with short ingredient lists and without artificial colors.

10.     Don’t cater to your picky eater. Though you can’t always change your child’s preferences, what you can change is your response to him or her. Make and serve one meal. I promise: eventually, you will have a kid who enjoys eating all sorts of food!

American Heart Association:

1.     Start by introducing healthier elements into foods that your child already likes. For example, offer blueberry pancakes, carrot muffins, fruit slices over a favorite cereal, chunks of bell pepper in a potato salad, or shredded veggies over rice.

2.     Include your kids in the prep work. By being involved in grocery shopping and food preparation, your kids will have more ‘buy-in.’ If they feel some ownership over the meal, they may be more likely to eat it.

3.     Don’t buy unhealthy foods. Out of sight, out of mind. If the chips and cookies aren’t around, your kids can’t eat them. They may resist at first, but when they get hungry, they’ll start munching the carrot sticks. Keep healthy foods on hand — 100 percent juice instead of colas or sugary drinks, and a bag of apples instead of a bag of chips.

4.     Schedule snack time and stick to it. Most kids like routine. If your kids know they will only get food at certain times, they’ll eat what they get when they get it. Try to have snacks incorporate two food groups. For example, offer cheese and whole-grain crackers or apple slices with low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese.

5.     Have healthy finger foods available. Kids like to pick up foods, so give them foods they can handle. Fruit and veggie chunks (raw or cooked) are great finger-food options.

6.     Repeal the “clean your plate” rule. Kids know when they’re full, so let them stop. Overeating is one of the major reasons we get too many calories.

7.     Encourage kids to “eat their colors.” This game works well with younger kids. Food that’s bland in color often also lacks nutrients. Eating a variety of brightly colored foods provides more nutrients in greater variety.

8.     Don’t cut out treats altogether. Think moderation. A scoop of ice cream or a serving of Oreos is all right occasionally. If you cut out all the goodies, your kids will be more likely to overeat when they do get them. Make sure to moderate the treat consumption.

9.     Veg out at the dinner table, not the TV. Eating in front of the TV is distracting, and kids may not notice that they’re full because they’re wrapped up in the show. Eating as a family is a great time to catch up.

10.  Be a good role model. The best way to influence kids is by example. Don’t expect them to eat spinach if you won’t touch it.

Mayo Clinic:

1.      Respect your child's appetite — or lack of one: If your child isn't hungry, don't force a meal or snack. Likewise, don't bribe or force your child to eat certain foods or clean his or her plate. This might only ignite — or reinforce — a power struggle over food. In addition, your child might come to associate mealtime with anxiety and frustration or become less sensitive to his or her own hunger and fullness cues. Serve small portions to avoid overwhelming your child and give him or her the opportunity to independently ask for more.

2.     Stick to the routine: Serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day. You can provide milk or 100 percent juice with the food, but offer water between meals and snacks. Allowing your child to fill up on juice, milk or snacks throughout the day might decrease his or her appetite for meals

3.     Be patient with new foods: Young children often touch or smell new foods, and might even put tiny bits in their mouths and then take them back out again. Your child might need repeated exposure to a new food before he or she takes the first bite. Encourage your child by talking about a food's color, shape, aroma and texture — not whether it tastes good. Serve new foods along with your child's favorite foods.

4.     Make it fun: Serve broccoli and other veggies with a favorite dip or sauce. Cut foods into various shapes with cookie cutters. Offer breakfast foods for dinner. Serve a variety of brightly colored foods.

5.     Recruit your child's help: At the grocery store, ask your child to help you select fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. Don't buy anything that you don't want your child to eat. At home, encourage your child to help you rinse veggies, stir batter or set the table.

6.     Set a good example: If you eat a variety of healthy foods, your child is more likely to follow suit.

7.     Be creative: Add chopped broccoli or green peppers to spaghetti sauce, top cereal with fruit slices, or mix grated zucchini and carrots into casseroles and soups.

8.     Minimize distractions: Turn off the television and other electronic gadgets during meals. This will help your child focus on eating. Keep in mind that television advertising might also encourage your child to desire sugary or less nutritious foods.

9.     Don't offer dessert as a reward: Withholding dessert sends the message that dessert is the best food, which might only increase your child's desire for sweets. You might select one or two nights a week as dessert nights, and skip dessert the rest of the week — or redefine dessert as fruit, yogurt or other healthy choices.

10.  Don't be a short-order cook: Preparing a separate meal for your child after he or she rejects the original meal might promote picky eating. Encourage your child to stay at the table for the designated mealtime — even if he or she doesn't eat. Keep serving your child healthy choices until they become familiar and preferred.

All in all, as the Mayo Clinic advises, “If you're concerned that picky eating is compromising your child's growth and development, consult your child's doctor. He or she can plot your child's growth on a growth chart. In addition, consider recording the types and amounts of food your child eats for three days. The big picture might help ease your worries. A food log can also help your child's doctor determine any problems. In the meantime, remember that your child's eating habits won't likely change overnight — but the small steps you take each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.” Mayo Clinic

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Cheers to starting a new tradition around The Table Together!


Tiffany Lewis

Founder and true believer in the power of bringing people around The Table Together!