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Family Times
Wednesday, March 9, 2011 • Posted March 9, 2011

Children’s Nutrition: 10 tips for picky eaters

I’m getting together a program on children’s nutrition for Headstart parents soon, so I thought I’d share some of what I’ve learned...

Getting children (particularly toddlers) to eat nutritious foods can be a challenge, to say the least. Parents can buy good foods and prepare healthy meals, but that doesn't mean their children will actually eat.

All parents have dealt with the picky eater at one time or another and, partly because of that, here are some tips that can help you get your child into the habit of eating the nutritious meals you prepare. Before getting to the list, it's important to mention that parents shouldn't panic or overreact if children refuse to fully cooperate at mealtime. Remain calm if your little one doesn't want to eat her supper as your demeanor can also affect her desire to eat. As for the tips:

1. Be consistent. Try to have meals and snacks around the same time every day. This will help your child establish a pattern for eating. Avoid juice and snacks an hour or so before meals.

2. Don't force your child to have a meal or snack during the day or to "clean" his/her plate. The younger the child, the more they tend to eat only when hungry.

3. Don't be discouraged when your child doesn't want to try new foods. It can sometimes take several attempts before a child actually tries a new food.

4. Model the behavior you want your child to adopt. Your child will be more likely to try a variety of foods if he/she sees you eating a variety of foods with lots of colors.

5. Try a little sleight of hand -don't be afraid to hide veggies by chopping them up into small pieces and including them in sauces or by putting fresh fruits into cereals or a smoothie.

6. Have fun with your meals. Cut vegetables and fruits into fun shapes. Use tasty sauces or cheese to spruce up dishes like broccoli and cauliflower.

7. Have dinner in a quiet place. Avoid distractions like television or toys at the table.

8. Don't use dessert a reward. Instead, offer dessert one to two times per week and be creative by using fruits and yogurt as alternatives to the traditional desserts like pies and cakes.

9. Involve your child. Let your kids help you with cleaning and preparing fruits and vegetables (being mindful of the child's age and maturity level if they are handling utensils).

10. Avoid making separate meals for the picky eater because this can encourage more pickiness.

And remember- you are your child’s most important role model- they will be looking to see if you’re eating your veggies, too!

These tips can help get your kids on the path to building good eating habits. However, if you're concerned about your child's health, including the limited consumption of nutritious foods, consult your child's doctor. It is often a process to get children to eat nutritious foods but your diligence and patience should pay dividends in years to come as they learn good eating habits.

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