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Kids & Nutrition: Tips for Feeding Picky Eaters

By Rennie Aranda – Skinny Gene Nutritionist

“My child won’t eat any vegetables, especially if it’s green.” “She doesn’t want anything but peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for every meal!” “He used to love carrots. Now he won’t even touch them!” Do any of these statements sound familiar? Do not worry. You are not alone. It is very common to have picky eaters in the family and selective eating is typical behavior for many young children (and even some adults). It may be comforting to know that most children who are perceived as picky eaters probably have adequate diets. As long as your child is healthy, growing normally, and has plenty of energy, he or she is most likely getting enough nutrients. What parents often perceive as picky eating may just be their kid’s normal response to new foods. Here are some tips to help make healthy foods like fruits and vegetables favorite choices in your home.

boy eating broc

Respect your kid’s appetite.

Kids are very smart eaters. They eat when they are hungry and they don’t eat when they are full. Do not force a meal or snack if they are not hungry. Also, do not bribe a child to eat certain foods. Make mealtimes a pleasant experience so they don’t associate mealtime with anxiety and frustration. Offer small portions and give them the opportunity to (independently) ask for more. Remember, it is your job to offer healthy foods, and it is the child’s job to decide what to eat from what’s offered and how much.

Stick to the routine.

Eat together and try to have consistent, regular meals and snacks at about the same time every day. Juice and milk should be offered with food, and water in between eating. This avoids your child filling up on juice or milk that may affect his/her appetite when mealtime arrives.

Familiarize your child with new and healthy foods.

Kids have their own process when it comes to accepting new foods. They may need to touch or smell foods, or may even need to take a bite and spit it back out. This is a normal process and it is best to be patient and let them explore the new food in their own way. Your child may need repeated exposure (up to 10 times or more) to a new food until they even take their first bite. Encourage your child and get them familiarized with the food by talking about a food’s color, shape, aroma, and texture. Try to serve new foods with foods your child already likes.

Make it fun and get them involved.

Let your child help out with kid-friendly recipes. Cut foods into various shapes with cookie cutters. Cut up vegetables and make faces with them on a piece of whole wheat bread or tortilla. Let them help you make a salad. Have them wash fruits and vegetables with you or arrange them on a platter with a favorite dip or sauce. At the grocery store, ask your child to help in selecting fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods. (Also, try not to buy anything you don’t want your child to eat). Kids may become more interested in trying new foods once they are more comfortable with them.

Minimize distractions and set a good example.

 Help your child focus on eating by turning off any distractions such as handheld devices and the television. Not only does this encourage your child to eat, but it limits television advertising that might encourage your child to desire sugary foods. Be a role model and demonstrate healthy eating to your children by eating healthy foods, too. Your kid will be more likely to follow suit. They tend to want to do what other family members are doing.

Be creative.

Finely chop vegetables like broccoli and green peppers and mix into pasta sauces. Blend vegetables and add into soups or sauces. Top cereal or oatmeal with fruit slices. Mix grated zucchini and carrots into casseroles and soups. Make a fruit and vegetable smoothie.

Don’t be a short-order cook.

Encourage your child to stay at the table for the designated mealtime, even if he or she doesn’t eat. Do not prepare a separate meal after your child rejects the original meal. This may promote picky eating and the child won’t become familiar with the new food. Keep offering healthy choices until they become familiar and preferred. Be patient.

Kid-friendly wrap ideas:

Wraps are a versatile meal or snack that is easy and fun to make—great for kids! Pick between a tomato, spinach, or whole wheat tortilla. You can leave the wraps whole, slice them in half diagonally, or slice them into several one or two inch bite-size pieces. Add some creative flair and try different combinations of your favorite fruits and vegetables.

Basic Guidelines:
– Pick a filling such as cold cuts, cheeses, smoked salmon, beans, tuna, tofu, or lean meats.
– Pick a spread or condiment that will go with your main filling. Hummus, plain Greek yogurt, salsa, guacamole, and jams are some good choices.
– Add your favorite veggies such as shredded lettuce or cabbage, chopped tomatoes, sliced olives, fresh herbs, slivered onions or bell peppers, sprout, and thinly sliced cucumbers or mushrooms. If it goes with your ingredients, add thinly sliced or chopped fruit or nuts and seeds.

Wrap Recipes to Try:
– Yogurt, cucumber, tomato, olives, and feta
– Sliced chicken, provolone, and pesto
– Hummus, cucumber, carrot, onion, and roasted bell peppers
– PB&J, banana, and granola
– Tuna, lettuce, and tomato

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