Picky Eaters – How to Get Them to Eat!
By Alyssa Simpson
Many parents struggle with how to feed picky eaters. Kids of any age — and even adults — can be picky eaters and may become so for a variety of reasons.
Where Do Picky Eaters Come From?
Some picky eaters are simply going through a phase and are looking for ways to exert control over their lives. Most picky toddlers fall into this category. Sometimes picky eating can be a symptom of a more serious issue, like a sensory perception disorder or an autism spectrum disorder. If you are concerned that your picky eater falls into one of these categories, consult with an occupational therapist for an evaluation.
In some cases, however, picky eating may simply be the result of a dislike of certain tastes and textures or even a lack of exposure to a variety of foods.
Coping with Picky Eating
When faced with a picky eater, parents may worry about how to handle the situation. Is their child getting enough of the nutrients they need to thrive? Will missing some of these nutrients cause delays in growth and brain development? Some are concerned that picky eating is a disciplinary problem. Many well-meaning parents resort to tactics that may increase the problem rather than solve it.
Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them
1. Giving in to the picky eater’s desires
Many parents simply want to make dinner more pleasant. If their child is on a Cheerios kick, they simply serve Cheerios three times a day. While this may decrease the fussing, it is only reinforcing the behavior. Instead, serve your child the same nutritious, healthy meals you serve the rest of the family. Kids don’t starve themselves. Eventually, they will try some new foods.
2. Providing snacks all day
If your child is refusing meals and living on yogurt and goldfish crackers in between meals, there is no incentive to eat the healthy meals. A hungry child will eat. While an occasional snack is fine, limit them, especially when a meal is an hour away.
3. Panicking when kids don’t eat three well-rounded meals a day
This is an incredibly common trait in kids, especially toddlers. Keep in mind that most toddlers really only need 1,000 to 1,300 calories per day. They will often self-regulate, appearing to binge one day and barely eating the next. Don’t worry — your child isn’t preparing for a lifetime of eating disorders. Watch the foods your child eats over a weekly basis rather than a daily basis.
4. Providing foods that are too complex
Many toddlers and even older kids shy away from foods with complex tastes and favors. Although your favorite dishes may be well-seasoned ethnic cuisines, your child’s growing taste buds are more likely to prefer blander tastes. You can solve this problem by adding seasonings and flavorings directly to your own servings or after you have set aside a plate for your child.
5. Banishing kids from the kitchen
The kitchen is a fascinating place for most children. It can also be a dangerous place, and many safety-conscious parents chase their children out. Instead, find safe ways for your child to help you prep meals. Toddlers can stir cold ingredients and even wash produce.
Older kids can toss a salad using cut and prepped veggies. Let your children measure ingredients. Not only will they be getting a great lesson in healthy eating and even math, being invested in the meal makes kids far more likely to eat it.
6. Punishing a child who doesn’t eat
Did your parents ever make you eat your dinner for breakfast when you refused it the night before? If the broccoli wasn’t appetizing at dinner, is it very likely to be appetizing now? Tactics like this set the stage for more problems with food down the road, as the child attempts to exert control.
Kids will match wills with you, and you should never underestimate the power of a willful preschooler. As contrary as it may seem, the less you fight with a picky eater, the faster the problem will resolve itself.
While these solutions will work for many kids, they won’t work for every kid. If you are truly worried about the amount your child is eating or if your child is showing signs of poor nutrition, don’t hesitate to call your doctor. You should also contact your doctor if you are worried that picky eating is a sign of a more serious problem.
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