Ah, picky eaters. If you have one, you know the drill: the kid won't eat anything mushy. She also won't eat anything that grows on a plant (except tater tots,) and she refuses to put anything in her mouth that came from a cow, pig, or anything that swims in water. She'll eat chicken, though, as long as it's shaped like a dinosaur, breaded and fried, and yes, swimming in ketchup.
It's kinda hard to feed your picky eater a balanced diet when she'll only consume things that are tan and yellow in color. Like cheese. And nuggets. And fries. And tater tots. And...no, wait, no. Those four things pretty much cover what she'll eat.
You've got a lot of work ahead of you, but these eight tactics may help ease your pain - and extend her palate.
1. Be creative when including vegetables
Plenty of kids hate vegetables, but there are ways to ‘encourage’ your kid into eating them besides the traditional ranch dip method. You can puree cooked veggies and add them to soups, sauces, and casseroles, or you can cut them into teeny, tiny pieces and add them to the mac and cheese. You can hide them under the cheese on a homemade pizza. You can also juice them - think carrots, cucumbers, and even spinach - and add them to a berry smoothie. Chances are, your lovely child will be none the wiser.
2. Set a good example
Young kids like to copy their parents, so if you show your picky eater that you eat - and enjoy - a wide variety of foods, your child may well try to emulate your habits. Say things like, "Oh, this carrot is so sweet!" and "Oooh, steak! My favorite!" Curiosity may get the best of your kiddo, and he may just try a bite - and like it! Kids also love to be told how big and strong they are, so use that to your advantage. "Eat your peas. They'll make you big and strong!"
3. Don't ban treats
It can be tempting to threaten your child with the removal of favorite foods if they display picky eating habits. However, child psychologists warn that banning foods can actually make them even more attractive and also encourage your child to use underhanded methods to acquire their preferred treats. Instead, limit the intake of sugary and fried foods and find healthier treats to take the place of the unhealthy counterparts when possible.
4. Be firm
If your child refuses to eat entire meals that you’ve made, explain that this meal is all that is available just now, and if she doesn't want to eat it, that's fine, but you're having dinner and aren't about to get up and make her something different. Making multiple dinners sets a bad precedent. If she still refuses to eat, don't make a big deal out of it. In fact, totally ignore it if you can. Later, when she says she's starving, either offer her the meal she didn't eat or give her the choice between two healthy snacks. And don't worry: chances are that she's not going to starve. But if you're truly concerned, have a conversation with her pediatrician.
5. Give your children autonomy
Children thrive when they have some control over their choices, and you can use this to your advantage. Offer your child a few options. Try, "Would you like peas, a salad, or rice on the side?" instead of "Do you want a salad with your dinner?" when you know they don’t particularly care for salad.
6. Make different foods exciting
If you connect trying new foods to learning about different cultures, your child's curiosity about other people's experiences may tempt them into eating a wider range of foods. Making up fun names for your dishes can be fun, too. Instead of calling it "pork chops," call it "cave man pig feast" and let your child eat the pork chop with his hands. Does the thought of that make you crazy? Then just leave it at the fun name and maybe show your kid how to chase the pig around the plate with his fork.
7. Explain the benefits of new foods
Older children may be responsive to explanations that help them understand why it is good to add certain foods to their diet. For example, instead of saying that fruits and vegetables are good, discuss how people who eat more of these foods are less likely to become ill or overweight. You can also use the old tried-and-true "You'll grow big muscles if you eat your (insert food here)" or "Eating your vegetables will help you jump higher!"
8. Be persistent, and be patient
Finally, don't give up on a particular dish just because your child won't eat it the first time. It takes around ten times of consuming a new food to develop a taste for it. So patiently offer it a few times, including it in several different meals or snacks. Younger children in particular may need a bit of time to adjust to the flavor or texture of a new food.
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