How to Cope With a Picky Eater

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In my work as a pediatric dietitian, I have met with many parents who have come to me for help with their finicky eaters.  As a parent of a young toddler, I have also experienced this first hand. What’s important to understand is that picky eating is NORMAL for many toddlers and young children. You may notice that your one year old who was eating everything from arugula to fois gras is now refusing everything except peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I’ve witnessed my own son eating salmon one night and the next week fish is thrown all over my kitchen floor.  Often times picky eating is a combination of a young child’s sensitive taste buds and his or her new found independence. Your 1-year-old is learning what the word “NO” means and is using it every chance he gets.   How do you foster a healthful eater when your child seems to be refusing EVERYTHING?

Be a good role model

You may not realize this but as a parent you are your child’s biggest role model.  Set a good example by making healthful food choices at meal and snack times.  Eating together as a family is another way for your children to observe you eating and enjoying a variety of foods.  My son always eats better when we sit down to dinner as a family.  I make sure that he is offered that same foods as us but cut into bite sized pieces that are easy to chew. If one or both parents are picky eaters it should not be a surprise when the child starts picking up similar eating habits. Take a look at your own eating habits before pointing the finger at your child.  Are you including whole fruits and vegetables with every meal?  Are whole grains eaten regularly?  You can find additional information on family nutrition at www.choosemyplate.gov .

Maintain a Division of Responsibility with Feeding

It is your role as the parent to choose what foods are offered at meal and snack times. It’s your child’s decision on whether or not he or she will eat the foods presented and how much. Don’t expect your children to love every food on the first try.  It can take up to 20 times of offering a certain food until a child learns to accept it!  Patience is key.  Avoid making separate meals for your picky eater.  This will only encourage selective eating.  I’ve had several days where most of my son’s meal goes untouched.  As a parent I worry that he hasn’t eaten enough.  I often remind myself that the next meal or snack is just around the corner.  Your child will not starve by missing a meal or two or three.  Children’s appetites vary day by day depending on their energy needs and whether or not they’re experiencing a growth spurt.  Trust that your child wants to eat and will eat when he or she is hungry enough.  Also, if a child eats very well at breakfast and lunch they may not need as much at dinner time. For additional information on the division of responsibility with feeding visit www.ellynsatterinstitute.com .

Make Meals Fun!

Children are more likely to try new foods when they are presented in creative ways.  Some of my fondest childhood memories include open faced sandwiches with a face drawn in the peanut butter and placing black olives on my fingers to create “little soldiers.”  It doesn’t take much to bring a bit of fun to meal times.  Cookie cutters are great for making shapes out of cheese, sandwiches or sliced fruit.  Use yogurt, peanut butter or hummus for dipping fruits and vegetables. The options are limitless! For additional creative ideas visit www.eatright.org/for-kids

When should I be concerned?

If your child’s picky eating has begun to affect his or her growth or you find that they are avoiding entire food groups it’s time to seek professional help. Our pediatric specialists at Lemond Nutrition are more than happy to help! In addition to one on one visits, we offer a monthly class called “Feeding Your Finicky Eater” that runs every 3rd Monday from 6-7pm.  Contact us at 972-422-9180 for more information and to schedule a visit with one of our dietitians.

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