Mealtime frown faces can be tough. The “picky eater” is the child with a short list of foods they will eat due to texture, taste, and visual preferences. Changing taste buds and appetites are a natural part of growing up healthy so don’t be alarmed when Jordan says every vegetable is “icky”. Not to be confused with more serious eating disorders, the picky eater will often eat enough but can fall into an unhealthy BMI for his/her age.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for ages 2 years and older a menu that primarily relies on fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat and nonfat dairy products, beans, fish, and lean meat. To keep appetite high for main meals, limit juice, sweet treats, and fatty snacks too close to meals times as that curbs hunger and limit nutrition. Meals and snacks should be offered at regular times and for most children that could be 2-3hrs between snacks and meals when tummies get empty.
Meal time should be relaxed and happy. Forcing, begging, pleading, bribing, and “never leave the table” commands will fail so avoid those. Defiant picky eaters will cry, refuse to eat or use standoffs that will wear you out. But most seriously they may develop unhealthy food habits for years to come. A caregiver’s role is to serve healthy meals, encourage tasting and not be pushy.
Model good eating habits because they learn from us. Be a good example and as often as possible and have meals with them. When old enough have them plan and cook meals with you. For children who can’t yet read use pictures of recipes, or kids cookbooks to propose meal ideas.
Keep children exposed to foods even if they don’t like them. Pediatric nutrition experts agree that offering a different meal to a picky eater will not help them change and neither will not serving those “icky” foods. Offering children a variety of colorful foods will encourage them to eventually taste and finally enjoy healthier choices. Try serving a familiar or favorite at every meal and watch for texture preferences. A child may eat raw carrots and spinach but will not eat them cooked.
Pediatric Dietitian and mom, Katy Yurman says she often remind parents to link the benefits of healthy foods to what matters to a child. For example, “Milk will give you strong bones and teeth”. Within the space of a week a picky child may be eating all his or her nutrition if you offer variety. Check with your Pediatrician to see if maybe vitamin D and iron are needed. If you have a child that consistently refuses to eat healthy foods or have no interest in eating and the Pediatrician have weight or growth concerns ask to be referred to a nutrition expert such as a Registered Dietitian.