Is your child refusing to eat anything other than macaroni and cheese? Well, you’re not alone. Picky eating is a common occurrence during childhood, often causing parents considerable anxiety and stress. It can be frustrating to find foods that are both nutritious and tasty for your little ones. But encouraging good nutrition for your child does not have to be frustrating. Let’s take a look at why kids are sometimes so particular about what they eat and some ideas for ways to overcome picky eating habits.
Some kids are happy to snack on things like hummus, bell peppers, and carrots, while other kids, though, will only follow a carb-based “white diet” consisting of pasta, rice, and bread. Why are some kids so picky about food? There could be many reasons. A 2015 study showed that picky eating habits were linked to everything from personality traits, to parental control at meantime, to social influences, to the mom’s own eating patterns.1 For most kids, it is just a phase, and it is important to know that it is also very normal. At the same time, though, if a picky eater isn’t getting enough good nutrition because they are being so selective, it could potentially lead to both short-term and long-term nutrient deficiencies. Here are some strategies to consider, for the picky eater in your family.
Picky Eater Strategies
Respect your child’s appetite: If your child isn’t hungry, do not try and force them to eat. Also, do not force your child to finish everything on their plate…they do not need to be a member of the “clean plate club,” if they are already full. If you try to get them to finish everything, they will learn to be less sensitive to their own internal hunger cues.2 Additionally, if you force them to eat, this could lead your child to associate mealtime with stress and anxiety, which you do not want.
Have a routine: If possible, serve meals and snacks at about the same time every day. If your child decides not to eat a meal, a regular snack time will give you the opportunity to give them a nutritious little snack, like a piece of fruit. If you let your child fill up on juice and snacks throughout the whole day however, as opposed to at designated times, it may decrease their appetite for their regular meals.
Be patient testing out new foods: For the most part, children are hardwired to like sweeter flavors.3 This may explain why they shun things like brussels sprouts and broccoli. So if you are trying to introduce something like that, try introducing it in a different form, like in a salad, or in a soup or smoothie. A smoothie is actually a great way to get your child some essential nutrients, especially greens, into their diet. One of our quick tips is to look for a quality powdered green drink mix, one that contains some nutritious grasses like barley grass and wheat grass, along with nutrients like chlorella and spirulina. You could add this powdered drink mix to a smoothie with some spinach, apple, cucumber and lemon, for a tasty and nutrient-packed drink, which can also double as its own meal. Check out these simple recipes and tips for getting your child involved in making smoothies4.
Recruit your child’s help: Next time you go to the grocery store, ask your child for help in selecting fruits, veggies, and other healthy foods for the upcoming week, really making them feel like they are part of the process, and that you value their opinion. Once you get home, encourage your child to help you prepare and rinse these veggies, set the table…etc. Kids learn by doing.
Minimize distractions: Get into the habit of turning off the TV and other electronic gadgets during meal times. This will help your child to focus on eating. Start ‘mindful eating’ habits earlier.
If you are concerned that picky eating is compromising your child’s growth and development, consult your pediatrician. In addition, consider recording the types and amounts of food your child eats for a week, because a food log can help the doctor determine if there are any problems. And it’s okay to relax, because they will likely grow out of this as fast as they grow out of their shoes.