Feeding Picky Kids

Most parents know the challenge of getting one or more of their children to eat broccoli, spinach, peaches, or any of a number of foods that kids decide they don't like. Picky eaters not only challenge parents' resolve, they trigger concerns about adequate nutrition and just how hard a parent should push kids to eat. As kids grow, they develop likes and dislikes, which are often different than what their parents might experience. Just because parents enjoy a food doesn't mean their child will automatically like that food. Picky eaters are developing their own personal palate, which is a natural part of growth and development, and parents can deal with the process more comfortably if they remember the following:

  • Relax! Avoiding a food or meal won't lead to starvation.

  • Don't prepare foods just for your picky eater.

  • Offer small portions of a variety of foods.

  • Encourage trying some of each food, but don't force it.

  • Avoid serving very hot or cold foods; warm foods work best.

  • Skip the meal schedule.

  • Avoid fighting over food.

  • One of the biggest temptations for parents is to force their children to try a food or to clean their plate, but these actions can start bad eating habits. Let your child be the guide in determining how much they want to eat so they learn to recognize feelings of fullness and when to stop eating. Starting with smaller portions, about a tablespoon of each food served for each year of your child's age, avoids overwhelming your child and allows them to ask for more if they are still hungry.

    A Good Eating Role Model

    While all children will develop their own likes and dislikes, one way parents can help their children develop a variety of food likes is to model good eating behaviors. If you aren't a good vegetable eater or if you skip dairy, don't be surprised if your kids follow your lead. If there are foods you don't like, that is okay, but avoid turning up your nose when the food is served and at least try a small amount. Demonstrating these positive behaviors can help children develop good eating habits, no matter which foods they may never end up liking.

    How often should a two- or three-year-old eat?

    Young children have smaller stomachs, so they can only eat small amounts at each meal, making three meals a day impossible for them to meet their nutritional needs. Plan to feed young children every three to four hours to make it easier for them to meet their nutritional needs.

    Picky eaters can often be encouraged to eat more when they feel more comfortable with their food. Involving children in meal preparation is a good way to encourage them to try new foods. Having children help with mixing, stirring, and as they get older, cutting and serving, are a few ways to expose them to new foods in a comfortable way.

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