How Can You Help Expand Your Picky Eater’s Menu Selections?
There’s no sure fire explanation of why some children are more adventurous eaters and why others want the same foods day after day and refuse to try anything new. Some people believe that children are born “picky” eaters and others argue that it is how the child was raised. For some children, it is the first symptoms of sensory issues and they do not like certain food textures.
What we do know is that children only have access to the foods that parents and other adults in their life provide them. You can help your kids make good choices and be less “picky” from the very beginning if you make a commitment to buy and serve healthy foods for mealtimes and snack when they are young, and keep sweets and treats (yes, pizza is considered a treat) to a minimum.
For the first six months of life, breast milk, formula or a combination of the two is all that a baby needs. This means no juice or water, and definitely no cereal mixed with milk in the bottle! After your baby can sit up on their own, and a pediatrician agrees that your child is ready, you can begin introducing solids (such as pureed vegetables first. Many people disagree about which foods should be introduced first: cereals, green foods, orange or yellow foods, or even fruits. Talk with your child’s doctor about her recommendations and then start exploring for yourself.
Once you start feeding your child solids, the world opens up to so many yummy choices that you can share together. And no, that doesn’t mean you have to eat “baby food” but you can choose to eat carrots if your young child is eating pureed carrots! See below for some general guidelines to help you raise a healthy eater and make meal times less stressful for everyone.
- 1. Establish a meal and snack schedule, and rules. Children love routines and that includes for meals and snacks. As to rules, come up with some that work for your family such as, no tv or electronics during meal times. This helps the family interact with each other, learn their hunger and full cues, and focus more on the meal.
- 2. Start family meal times as early as possible. Sitting down and eating with your baby helps to take the pressure off of them to eat and limits distractions. Plus, if they see their parents and siblings eating healthy, balanced meals, it creates positive role modeling for them.
- 3. Don’t rush meal times. Yes, children can be slower, but they need enough time to finish their food. It might not hurt for the adults to slow down too!
- 4. Only serve milk or water with meals. Be sure that your child does not finish her beverage before she begins eating or it may stop her from feeling hungry.
- 5. Limit snacking. If a child is allowed to over snack or graze all day, he probably will be less hungry and less interested in food at meal times.
- 6. Don’t stop serving a food just because your child does not like it the first time. It can take up to 13 – 15 introductions of a food for a child to really know whether or not they truly dislike it. Keep offering it, in small portions, over several months.
- 7. Be a food model. If your child only sees you eating fast food or junk, it will not inspire him to eat healthy. Try taking some of your favorite foods, like chicken fingers, and bake them instead of frying them.
- 8. Make meal times fun and interesting. You can spice up meals by using fun shapes, combining flavors and textures, and asking them to help in the preparation.
BIRTH TO 1
- Be sure to talk with your child care provider about your baby’s feeding schedule and make sure you are on the same page.
- During the baby stage of life, breast milk, formula, or a combination of the two provides children everything they need.
- Around six months your baby should be ready to start solid foods, but talk with your pediatrician for advice on which foods to introduce first.
- Label all of your baby’s food materials (bottles, formula, and lunch bag) before sending them in to your child care provider.
- Babies under six months should not be given fruit juice or water. After six months, to help prevent tooth decay, only put your child to bed with a bottle containing water.
AGE 1 TO 2
- Does your child need to drink more water? Dilute her juice with water to encourage more water consumption.
- It’s normal for toddlers and preschoolers to have a large appetite one day and a little one the next. Keep offering them a healthy selection of foods for their growth.
- Encourage your child to eat foods with fiber (fruits and vegetables). They may want to stick with chicken nuggets, fries, and macaroni but keep trying!
- Interested in a daily sample menu for a two-year old? See the Healthy Children’s link for more ideas!
- At this age, your child is getting better with self-feeding. Keep the unbreakable dishes close since you never know when they will get bored and their food will start flying.
AGE 2 TO 3
- Ask your provider how mealtimes work and how long they have to eat. Meals should be pleasant with interaction among the children and caregiver.
- While your two year old may not eat a lot, they may show more interest in food if they share meals with the family and their food is cut bite-sized.
- Make eating entertaining by cutting sandwiches with cookie cutters of various shapes and sizes.
- Play with names: If your baby loves grapes and you are introducing them to blackberries, call them bumpy grapes. Call cauliflower, white broccoli.
- Scale back on the snacks. Allow your child to work up an appetite for a healthy dinner.
AGE 3 TO 4
- Check with your provider to ensure your child has the opportunity to request seconds during snack and mealtimes.
- Water makes up for most of our weight and is needed for optimal health. Be sure to give your child water throughout the day, and that it is offered during the day at child care.
- Your child is more likely to eat healthy when you do! Share a healthy snack together and keep family dinners a priority.
- Enlist your child to help with a small garden. Growing their own food may make them more willing to try new vegetables and fruits!
- Serve similar foods together: cantaloupe and honeydew, broccoli and cauliflower, or steamed carrots and zucchini.
AGE 4 TO 5
- To promote healthy eating habits, make sure food is not treated as a reward or punishment.
- Help your child drink more water by sending her to child care with her own labeled bottle of water each day.
- Research shows that kids eat more veggies and fruits when they eat mealtimes with the family.
- Take your child to the farmer’s market and enroll their help in picking out the fruits and veggies.
- Many little ones love dipping their food. Add some condiments to the mix: carrots and ranch, fruit and yogurt, or baked chicken and ketchup.