Finding foods that are affordable, healthy, and wholesome for young children can be a daunting task for some parents. Some children will eat anything that is put on their plate, while others won’t eat anything that isn’t chicken or pasta… But remember, as a parent, your child’s nutrition doesn’t have to be and shouldn’t be frustrating. Keep an open mind, positive attitude, and follow some useful tips to keep your picky eater a healthy eater that embraces a healthy diet:
Respect your child’s willingness (or lack thereof) to eat
- Never force your child to eat… EVER! Remember that if a child is hungry, he/she will eat. Similarly, never bribe a child to eat a certain food that you want them to eat. Meals should not be stressful for children or create a sense of anxiety. Serve small portions of food to avoid waste and power struggles.
Keep a routine
- Be sure you serve meals at around the same time every day. Be sure you eat in the same place every day – meals should be served at the kitchen or dining room table and not in the living room on the floor in front of the TV! Be sure you eat with your child – your child should not have to eat in isolation because you are too busy doing something else. In between meals and snacks, offer water rather than milk or juice to drink. Juices may fill your child up and decrease their appetite for mealtime.
- If you are beginning to offer new foods, remember that it may take several times for children to acquire a taste for them. Offer foods in small amounts, and do not make your child feel badly for not eating the food. Draw as little attention to the matter as possible. Encourage your child to discuss the foods color, shape, texture and smell – these are interesting topics for young children to discuss. Serve new foods alongside foods that are your child’s favorites.
Keep it fun
- Keep foods fun buy cutting them in fun shapes, serving them with dip, and arranging them creatively on a plate. Include your child in meal preparation and grocery trips so they are more interested in the foods you want them to eat.
Teach your kids about nutrition
- Children must know why eating healthy food is important. And no, saying, “You have to eat your dinner so you can grow big and strong,” doesn’t count! Teach your child about the food groups, sort pictures of food into the different food groups, organize your refrigerator into food groups, etc. Visit choosemyplate.gov for more ideas!
Visit your local farm
- Know your foods and know your local farmer! Visit your local farm so your child can learn about where and how foods are grown. This will peak your child’s interest in eating healthy foods grown by your local farmer!
Last but certainly not least, don’t stress over your child’s eating habits! Over time, they will learn to appreciate and enjoy the tastes of a variety of different foods, as long as you are a good role model!
Be sure to check out our segment on The Rhode Show about Picky Eaters!
Heather Grocott is the Director of The Children's Workshop in Lincoln, RI. She earned a BA from Providence College in Elementary and Special Education. She is pursuing a Master's Degree from Rhode Island College in Early Childhood education. Her true passion is not only working with children, but sharing knowledge with families and teachers in order to provide the best early learning experience for all young learners.