Working with a Picky Eater

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Eating right is tough....

– understatement of the year, right? Kids need healthy foods and plenty of exercises to help them grow and learn. Plus, the way we eat as children often influences the way we when we grow up. For adults, eating is usually pretty second nature, but we constantly have information coming at us from all directions – some good, some bad. For kids, eating is not so intuitive. They may be better than us about knowing when they want to eat and how much, but they don’t yet know what they “should” eat for health. On top of that, when they have access to highly palatable, processed junk foods, they often start to only want to eat those foods.

This can lead to battles at the dinner table. When we make a delicious meal full of fruits and vegetables, it is SO frustrating when anyone turns their nose up at the food without trying it. Remember, this is NORMAL! Children often need to see and taste a new food many times before they try it. So offer foods again and again! Talk to them about why we eat these foods and their health benefits and then praise them when they try a bite! What you don’t want to do is pressure or punish kids for their hesitancy towards eating new foods. There is no need to be the food police. So what else CAN we do as parents and caretakers?

For starters – BE A ROLE MODEL!

 Eat healthy foods with your child to show them how yummy and satisfying these foods are. Kids’ attitudes are often a reflection of their parents, so try to avoid talking negatively about specific foods you don’t like.

Provide Healthy Options

Make sure there are plenty of healthy options available to them at home and at school! If it’s not within arm’s reach, how are they supposed to eat it?

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Eat Meals Together

Next, make sure your household eats meals together as often as possible. Creating a stable routine supports positive behaviors and even can improve academic performance! Allowing kids to graze throughout the day between meals undermines mealtimes and makes it easier to refuse to eat the foods you made for the meal – so no grazing!

No Short Order Cooking

 Don’t be a ‘short order cook’. This means that it is best to offer the same meal to everyone, and if someone doesn’t like something, they don’t get substitutions. Children will not go without eating for long amounts of time. As long as you stand your ground and express that you won’t be making ‘special meals’ children will get the hint.

Involve Your Kids in the Cooking and Food Buying Processes

Lastly, encourage kids to be involved – growing a garden, helping shop and cook foods, and even playing with foods can help them engage with foods in a way that takes the pressure off. Just remember – healthy eating may be hard sometimes, but it is an investment in our kids’ future!

Written by Teresa M. Lee, MS, RD, LD for A Knew Plate Nutrition Consulting Blog

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About the author

Teresa Lee is a practicing RD in the Division of Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology, & Nutrition at the Kentucky Children’s Hospital.  A Lexington, Kentucky native and the University of Kentucky Alum, Mrs. Lee has worked in many areas of the dietetic profession, particularly in obesity and weight loss. Teresa is the mother of two very active fraternal twins. She, her husband, and children enjoy fishing, hiking, and outdoor activities. To learn more about Teresa click the link below!