7 new strategies for feeding a picky eater

7 new strategies for feeding a picky eater

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1. Jazz up the presentation

It may not be logical, but kids think brussels sprouts taste better when they can pluck them off the stalk rather than pick them out of a pile. And they find fruit more flavorful when it's skewered like a kabob instead of heaped in a bowl.

So think presentation as well as nutrition. You don't have to be a gourmet chef to put together a snazzy, kid-friendly plate. It can be as simple as arranging cut-up veggies on a colorful platter and sticking in some toothpicks, or serving a fruit smoothie in a pretty glass instead of in your child's regular old tooth-marked mug.

Why it works: "We eat with our eyes," say Liz Weiss and Janice Bissex, nutritionists and authors of No Whine With Dinner: 150 Healthy, Kid-Tested Recipes From the Meal Makeover Moms. If food looks good, our mouths water before we even taste it, lowering our resistance. For kids – who tend to be not only choosy but also sensitive to the way things look – this goes double.

2. Go family-style

It may be tempting to dish up your child's plate at the stove – that way you can make sure he gets the correct portions. But according to Emma Waverman, coauthor of Whining & Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and the Families Who Love Them, letting your child serve himself can help reduce his pickiness.

Important: No short-order cooking! Instead, try to include in each meal at least one dish that even your choosiest eater will accept. And if he skips over the salmon and broccoli and serves himself only bread? Take a deep breath and resist the urge to whip him up a bowl of buttered noodles. Let him enjoy the family dining experience his own way, and try to keep your own worry about his nutrition out of it.

Why it works: Letting your child be his own boss at dinner (without catering to him through short-order cooking) removes the fight factor. When meals are dominated by parental cajoling, forcing, or bribing, it makes for a tense environment – and kids balk at the pressure. On the other hand, when mealtime is pleasant and stress-free, kids begin to relax and are more likely to take risks by trying something new.

As Waverman puts it, "Try to make dinner time appealing on an emotional level as well as on a food level." After days of sticking to carbs, your child may surprise you by venturing into protein-and-veggie land all on his own.

If you don't see an improvement, discuss it with your child (but never at the dinner table). "You can tell him you've noticed he only eats rice and bread at dinner, and you can give some gentle education on what a more balanced meal looks like," says Waverman. Finally, ask for his input – he may have an idea for a healthy side dish or two. Of course, if it's his idea, he'll be more likely to try it.

3. Try using a food chain

Feeding specialist Cheri Fraker, coauthor of Food Chaining: The Proven 6 Step Solution to Stop Picky Eating, Solve Feeding Problems, and Expand your Child's Diet, explains her food chain technique this way: Picky eaters are slowly and gradually offered foods that are very similar to ones they already accept. Gradually, they learn to expand their menus.

For example, if your child likes a certain brand of French fries, offer her a similar brand. After she accepts different kinds of fries, move on to a food that's similar in taste and texture, such as baked potato puffs. Once she accepts this, move on to a baked potato. Follow this with mashed potatoes, then mashed potatoes with gravy, then potato pot pie, and finally, quiche.

Why it works: Food chaining is customized to your child's preferences, and the pace is as slow as she needs it to be. This will help her feel comfortable with trying new foods. "When it comes to eating, children balk at pressure," says Fraker. "This technique adapts to them, rather than forcing them to adapt to a technique."

4. Let them get hungry

Kids have become grazers, expecting a near-constant supply of juice boxes and crackers. Dinner – where more nutritious food is served – can become an afterthought. "Don't be afraid to let your kids get a little hungry before mealtime," says Betsy Hicks, coauthor of Picky Eating Solutions.

This doesn't mean they shouldn't have any snacks. After all, with their rapid growth and small stomachs, children do need to eat between meals. But there's a difference between providing moderate snacks and letting food serve as your children's primary boredom-buster.

If you find your kids demanding one snack after another, get them involved in an art project, take them out for a walk, or break out the sidewalk chalk. The likely result? Mealtime will become more satisfying. "There's immense joy in sitting down to a table when you're hungry," says Hicks. "I think a lot of today's children don't get to have that experience."

Why it works: Kids are more likely to eat different types of food if they're hungry, even foods that scare them a little. "Think about what it would take for you to eat a worm, as they do in some parts of Asia," says Hicks. "It would be scary to you – just as broccoli is scary to some kids – but you'd certainly be more likely to try it if your stomach was empty."

5. Lose the self-blame

When you see your friend's kid wolfing down spinach and sushi, as your own slowly chews half a slice of bread, it's easy to judge yourself. But remember, pickiness is a trait like any other. "It's so important not to blame yourself," says Emily Rosenbaum, author of Cooking on the Edge of Insanity and the mother of a picky eater. "Picky eating is not the fault of the parents!"

Why it works: Once you shed the self-blame, you can gently help your child stretch his tastes without infusing the process with your own stress. This will free you up to cook with your child's tastes in mind without catering to him completely. Most crucial, you can begin to celebrate and enjoy food with him, rather than viewing it as a measure of your inadequacy. He'll pick up on your attitude, which will help him relax.

6. Start the day strong

If you've ever stuffed a granola bar into your child's hand or tossed her a toaster pastry as you both dive into the car in the mad morning rush, you know that breakfast can get short shrift. If this is the case in your home, try giving more priority to the first meal of the day. The options are endless – and not necessarily time consuming. Think fresh fruit, yogurt, low-sugar granola, eggs, and smoothies.

Why it works: "Children who eat a nutritious breakfast tend to make better food choices for the rest of the day," says Elizabeth Pantley, author of The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution: Gentle Ways to Encourage Your Child to Eat – and Eat Healthy. It's as if they kick-start themselves on a "less picky" path. Plus, kids who eat breakfast have better overall health than those who don't.

7. Not working? Consider professional help

Some kids are picky eaters because of a developmental or medical issue, says Linda Piette, pediatric nutritionist and author of Just Two More Bites: Getting Picky Eaters to Say Yes to Food. If your child's picky eating is affecting his health, causing a lot of conflict in your home, or seems particularly severe (or if you're simply at your wit's end and want some professional backup), it's time to talk to your child's doctor. She can refer you to a feeding specialist or nutritionist.

Why it works: A feeding therapist or nutritionist can provide an evaluation to help get to the root of the problem and will then develop a customized plan to address it. For example, some children have sensory issues that make them resistant to certain textures, and therapy can help them learn to ways to adapt. "I have seen countless children get better with treatment," says Piette.

Watch the video: Baby experts share tips on how to successfully feed fussy eaters l GMA (November 2022).

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