Question: My kids are insanely picky eaters. I am concerned that my children aren't growing well and sometimes I find empty bags of snack food in their beds. Any advice?
Answer: Picky eaters are all too common for families, especially younger children. First, I would recommend consulting with a pediatrician to determine if further assessment is warranted regarding food allergies or other medical conditions. Honestly, if a pediatrician isn't concerned, keep that in mind.
Let's assume there are no medical conditions. Here are a few tips for picky eaters:
Consistency. Be consistent about what time you eat snacks and meals. Even if your kids show no interest, have a variety of foods available at meals in case they are curious.
Be consistent in not giving your kids three or four options each meal. If they don't want to eat option one or two, then leave it at that. The next meal is always only a few hours away.
Modeling. If you want your kids to eat a variety of foods, you should eat a variety as well. Kids are more likely to experiment with new food if you do.
Creativity. Get creative in how you prepare and talk about food. A common strategy is to puree vegetables into sauces or baked goods.
Talk about foods, not how they taste, but how they look, smell, and have different textures.
Respect. Even though it can be incredibly frustrating and worrisome, be respectful in your interactions with your kids about their eating.
Fun. Make eating fun. No, I'm not talking about food fights. Make food into cool shapes, pretend you're a family of dinosaurs and chomp dinner, or have your kids help you with the prep.
Talk about how their favorite character/superhero eats healthy foods sometimes and how it can help your child as well.
Avoid power struggles. Food should be about food, not about the child being disobedient or defiant. Just because a child isn't eating what you serve doesn't mean they are being malicious. You don't want your kid to avoid meals because they think it's going to be a battle of the wills. The last thing you want is for your child to associate frustration and resentment with food.
Think if someone offered you food and you didn't like it or you weren't hungry, does that make you defiant?
Acceptance. Sometimes kids aren't hungry or interested, just the way it is. Accept where your child is at. They will have a less selective diet as they get older. As long as they are growing and healthy, they are okay.
Having a picky eater is an opportunity. Be consistent, continue to offer alternatives, try to be creative and fun, and accept your child as they are.
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