The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released new standards to child nutrition programs. Good health and nutrition are the foundation of child development and greatly affects whether or not children will reach their full potential. Many parents and caretakers take this truth to heart yet are flustered at the constant challenge of a picky eater.
At times, the emergence of a picky eater comes as somewhat of a shock, especially since a wide variety of foods have been introduced to a young child during the first years of their life. A decrease in the rate of physical growth and greater independence contribute to the emergence of a picky eater. During the first years of life it is the parent’s primary responsibility to oversee how much a baby is eating. As a child grows older, the sole responsibility splits into two distinct responsibilities that both parents and children can embrace: Parents are responsible for providing healthy foods at meal- and snack-times. Children are responsible for what and how much they eat.
Aside from these two responsibilities to establish in the home, here are some other guidelines parents can follow to encourage a picky eater to eat a variety of foods:
- Be a good role model. Parents who do not eat a wide range of foods and show disgust when trying new foods will find their children imitating the same behaviors.
- Offer new kinds of foods frequently and offer healthy food choices for the child to choose from. For example, a parent can provide the child with a choice of eating peas or broccoli as their vegetable. Put new foods next to foods that the child already likes.
- Remain mindful of a child’s food sensitivities. If a child has a challenge with eating foods with a mushy texture, offer apple slices rather than apple sauce or a baked potato rather than mashed potatoes.
- Involve the child in planning and preparing the meals. Handling, smelling and touching the food helps your child get comfortable with the idea of eating it.
- Avoid forcing or making deals to get a child to eat. Children quickly learn to make deals and ask for rewards for doing other things, and soon they will not do anything unless there is an incentive.
- When it comes to desserts, serve a small treat at the end of the meal to the child regardless of how much they ate. This teaches the child that sweets, when eaten in moderate servings, have their place. It also takes away the power struggle of the dessert being a special reward they are constantly trying to negotiate to get. Consider serving fresh fruit with yogurt, etc. as the dessert.
Allowing the child to take responsibility for how much they eat will encourage their ability to determine when they are full and when they are hungry. Children will gain the knowledge of healthy portion control which will result in healthy eating habits as adults. Yes, picky eaters are challenging. However when addressed appropriately, pickiness can be seen as the gateway for teaching and mastering healthy eating habits.