Are you tired of dinner time being a battle field with your picky eaters?
You put in effort to plan meals, shop for the healthiest ingredients that you can, and prepare a meal for your family just to have a child or children look at it like it is poop on a plate.
I recently had the chance to learn a few new tips for teaching picky eaters to eat healthy foods at an informational event here in San Diego. It was a great opportunity to learn so I could share with you!
I have 5 new tips (for each age group) to keep in mind if your children are picky eaters, shared by a pediatrician. The tips are specific for infants, toddlers and preschool kids. PLUS, there are some smart ideas for getting healthy foods into the hands of your child.
No matter if you have infants, toddlers or preschool aged children, picky eating can be frustrating. Dr. Jamie Freedman of the Children’s Physicians Medical Group here in the San Diego area shared some helpful tips for all age groups to encourage healthy eating and give up the power struggle that dinner time can become.
1) Breastfeed if you can.
Dr. Freedman emphasized if you CAN breastfeed, you probably should. Flavors of the foods you eat enter your breastmilk and help your baby taste a variety of foods before even tasting table food.
I shared my tips for breastfeeding [read more
] as a mom who has breastfed all four of my children (including the twins. (No guilt if you formula fed! I did that with my first child for a time too.) Breastfeeding can be challenging at first, but stick it out and get support.
2) Feed a variety of foods.
When your infant is ready to start baby food or table foods, there is no order that you have to follow. Feed a variety of fruits, vegetables and meats.
Making your own baby food is a great way to save money, save time, and feed the foods you are eating at home already [read more
If you skip purees altogether, same rule applies. Go with your child’s development and keep pieces small so baby does not choke.
3) Gaining weight well is a healthy indicator.
Many babies will be a bit picky depending on food flavor and texture. If they are gaining weight well according to your physician, this is not a worry.
Dr. Freedman suggested trying a new food for 3-4 days in a row before switching to another food if your infant shows signs of not liking a food.
For example, if you start with avocado, feed the avocado for 3-4 days in a row, trying to get your child to at least taste it, and then if he/she is still not liking it, switch to something else. Follow the same plan of feeding for 4 days in a row.
4) If you notice signs of an allergic reaction after feeding your child a food, stop.
We had this happen with my oldest girl. After eating hummus, she developed an “itchy tongue” and also some small red bumps on her chin and near her mouth.
Stop feeding the food. Mention any suspected allergy to your child’s doctor.
5) Vitamin supplementation
If your child eats a variety of foods, gains weight well and acts like they feel healthy most of the time, there may not be a need for vitamins.
Ask your doctor if you need to supplement especially if you are breastfeeding your infant. Often breastfed babies need zinc and iron, but talk to your doctor first.
TODDLERS AND PRESCHOOLERS
This is where the power struggles can happen. You may not have a picky eater, but just a head strong child. (I believe this is often the case in my house!)
Dr. Freedman shared great tips for getting this age group to learn healthy eating habits:
1) Take your child grocery shopping with you.
When your child is involved in the grocery shopping experience foods are less foreign. Letting your child pick a new food each time you go that you will prepare for a meal can help them feel like they have a say in the family meal planning. This has helped in our house sometimes, but not always.
2) Let your child cook with you.
I think this has a huge impact on not only healthy eating habits, but it is a basic skill EVERY one needs to learn before they reach adulthood. Children feel empowered when you let them help prepare meals.
It can be hard to be patient as they hack up the celery or get their hair a little too close to the marinara, but it is a great learning experience (for them and us)!
3) Eat meals together as a family.
Plan meals ahead of time so mealtime can be relaxed and a variety of foods can be served.
I believe very strongly that the BEST anti-bullying strategy is family meal time.
As a kid this is when my brother and I shared about our day at school-whether we got a good grade on a test, struggled to remember the facts on a quiz or were feeling bad after some “bully” made a mean comment directed at us. It was group therapy of the best and most important kind.
When you eat together, children get to see you eat the food you prepare and keep asking them to try. Modeling healthy eating habits is KEY to raising healthy eaters…even if you have to be patient to get though the defiant stage to see these habits in your children.
4) Reduce the unhealthy snacks and DO NOT give a snack to a child who has just refused to eat their meal.
This is a band aid and only furthers the problem of picky eating. Children learn quickly when you are willing to give in, and they will push for it each time.
Dr. Freedman suggests using a form of positive reinforcement when it comes to teaching picky eaters to try new foods, like a sticker chart-your child tries a new food, they get a sticker, a certain number of stickers equals a reward.
My husband and I are ok with being “mean parents” (ha!) so we tell our kids they have to eat what we give them. As I told you in my previous post with strategies for teaching picky eaters [read more
], we really do feed our children small amounts so we know they can fit it in their bellies. I know their “trigger” foods so I only serve them 1-2 bites of a food I know they really do not like…not so mean. 🙂
Knowing your child is so helpful in being patient when they are picky.
5) Eat a rainbow.
You’ve heard that before. This tip connects with the first tip-if you buy a good variety of healthy foods, prepare them, and eat them, your child will grow up with that as normal.
Around 3 to 4 years old, children often enter into a very defiant phase that in my experiences lasts until about 5 years old. [Read moreabout preschool development
.] This has played a part in my children’s picky habits.
(Picky eating may not be a sensory or behavior issue. It just may be part of a child’s developmental stage.)
Get Children Eating Healthy
If you are looking for some easy ways to get healthy snacks within your child’s reach, I shared a tip to set up a snack station in the fridge using a lunch box or plastic container [read more
We are not the only moms with picky eaters looking for ways to get our kids eating healthy!
Dr. Freedman who herself has teenagers, knows how this parenting thing goes. She shared some great tips for parents with picky eaters. She did emphasize that only a very small percentage of children have true health issues related to not eating, but always ask your child’s doctor if you are concerned.
I hope you are able to put into practice these helpful tips and maybe even use the snack box idea in your home to help your kids make healthy snack choices quickly and easily.
How do your children do with healthy foods?
Any picky eaters out there?
For a fun way to teach your picky eater about healthy foods, check out The Magical Plate ebook for kids!