Toddlerhood often seems like a series of battles. One of the more common battles is getting your toddler to eat healthy foods, if you can get them to eat at all! Picky eating is typical for many preschoolers. It’s simply another step in the process of growing up and becoming independent. As long as your preschooler is healthy, growing normally, and has plenty of energy, he or she is most likely getting the nutrients he or she needs.
Some children’s tendency to refuse certain foods is a source of frustration for many parents. Before you rip your hair out, consider these tips for dealing with picky eaters:
RESPECT YOUR CHILD’S APPETITE — or LACK OF ONE
If your child isn’t hungry, don’t force a meal or snack. It’s also a bad idea to bribe or force your child to eat certain foods or clean his or her plate. This may only ignite — or reinforce — a power struggle over food. In addition, your child may 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.
Stick to the routine
Serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day. If your child chooses not to eat a meal, a regular snack time will offer an opportunity to eat nutritious food. 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 may decrease his or her appetite for meals.
BE PATIENT WITH NEW FOODS
Young children often touch or smell new foods, and may even put tiny bits in their mouths and then take them back out again. Your child may 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. Keep serving your child healthy choices until they become familiar and preferred.
Don’t be a short-order cook
Preparing a separate meal for your child after he or she rejects the original meal may promote picky eating. Encourage your child to stay at the table for the designated mealtime — even if he or she doesn’t eat.
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.
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.
Set a good example
If you eat a variety of healthy foods, your child is more likely to follow suit.
Add chopped broccoli or green peppers to spaghetti sauce, top cereal with fruit slices, or mix grated zucchini and carrots into casseroles and soups.
Turn off the television and other electronic gadgets during meals. This will help your child to focus on eating. Keep in mind that television advertising may also encourage your child to desire sugary or less nutritious foods.
Don’t offer dessert
as a reward
Withholding dessert sends the message that dessert is the best food, which may only increase your child’s desire for sweets. You may 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.
If you’re concerned that picky eating is compromising your child’s growth and development, remember that your pediatrician is a valuable resource for helping you raise happy and healthy kids. Schedule your child’s visit so that their growth can be tracked. Recording the types and amounts of food your child eats for three days can also paint a big picture that may help ease your worries and can help your child’s doctor determine any problems.
• Dr. Tamarra Moss is a pediatrician committed to helping you raise happy and healthy kids. You can find her at Dr. Carlos Thomas & Pediatric Associates in Nassau, Lucayan Medical Center in Grand Bahama, or on Instagram @mykidsdoc242.