Mealtime can be a stressful event in a household with a picky eater. Your growing child's appetite may vary from one meal to the next, which can be frustrating for you both, especially during the young toddler years before children can communicate whether they're hungry and what they want. Though it can be difficult, be reassured that kids will eat when they're hungry and will decide when they've had enough to eat. As long as your child is growing and healthy, everything is probably fine. Remember that picky eaters will change their eating habits over time, and this will probably happen sooner if you avoid power struggles over food. If you have concerns about your child's growth rate or health, see your doctor. To eliminate some of the headache surrounding mealtimes, consider the following tips:
- Learn your child's likes and dislikes. Don't overreact if your child wants a favorite food over and over. Offering a bit of well-liked food at each meal along with new foods can make the meal less intimidating.
- Don't force food. Trust your child to know when it's time to stop eating. Encourage, but don't insist, that your child try new foods. Pushing children to eat when they've had enough may teach them to ignore their body's signals and overeat, and insisting that they clean their plate can eventually lead to a power struggle. If your child doesn't seem hungry at mealtime, encourage a quiet activity during the family meal. Reheat your child's dinner or offer a healthy snack later.
- Serve new foods often. The more a new food is presented to children, the more familiar it becomes and the more willing they'll be to try it. Present new foods in small, bite-sized portions and add a favorite topping or dipping sauce to make it more appealing.
- Offer choices. If, for example, your child doesn't like vegetables, offer a couple of options to choose from with each meal.
- Don't use food as a reward. Dessert as a reward can make your child less likely to eat more healthful foods. If you want to reward kids for trying something new or eating their vegetables, offer a nonfood prize, like watching a favorite video or going to the park.
- Avoid buying junk food. Keeping junk food or foods with a lot of sugar out of the house eliminates them as an option. Instead, offer balanced meals and healthful snacks with an occasional treat. Remember that snacks shouldn't be used in place of meals, but healthy snacks can be nutritious and you can make them more fun by cutting them into shapes with cookie cutters, drawing smiley faces on them or creating "juice-sicles" in ice cube trays. Let your child help you plan grocery lists and prepare meals or snacks. Children may be more willing to eat meals that they've helped to prepare.