Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Eating Healthy with Picky Eaters

Having a finicky eater in your household can really be frustrating when it comes to mealtime.   How you handle the situation will depend on the age of the child.  Some children can be adamant when it comes to the foods they will just not eat. Children rely on their sense of sight and smell before they will even try to taste something. So if it looks funny or smells funky may be tough getting them to try it.
The easiest solution is prevention.  If your family always eats fruits and vegetables and begins giving baby vegetables as the first foods, the whole process is easier.  But if you are just now starting to eat healthier, there is still hope.
Picky by CarbonNYC on Flickr

Preschoolers especially seem to pick certain foods and want to eat them over and over. Many parents just let this go because at least the child is eating something, right? That is because it takes at least 10 times of tasting a food for a baby or preschooler to know what it is going to taste like.  The foods they have had before are more comfortable for them, because they know what to expect. 
There are some things that are going on physically that change how babieseat when they become about two. In the first year babies grow very quickly.  They need a lot of food compare to their body size to maintain that growth.  By the time they are two, that growth has slowed down.  Preschoolers do not need to eat much more than a 1 year old to get enough food.

Preschoolers also tend to get on a roll for the day.  One day all they want one day is meat, the next day fruit, the next day carbs.  This is really normal behavior for 1-3 year olds.  It generally stops by age four, maybe five.  As a parent, you primary goal is to get them to eat a wide variety of different foods.  So, don’t fight the meat day, but make sure they eat more than chicken nuggets and hamburgers.  I have not known many kids to have a vegetable day.  So, vegetables may take more effort.  Remember that children have more bitter taste buds than adults.  That means the vegetables taste more bitter to your kids than they do to adults.  Fresh baby vegetables that are raw or cooked as little as possible with make them taste better to little kids.  What you don’t want to do is get into a power struggle with your two year old over food.  This is a really hard battle to win, since you cannot make them swallow.
So how do you incorporate healthier food into a finicky child’s diet? Here are few ways to handle the finicky child dilemma: 

Variation of The Same – In the case of a child who only eats a certain thing, like hot dogs, which are not the healthiest of foods, try substituting regular hot dogs with healthier low fat hot dogs made form turkey. The taste may be a little different at first, but visually they look the same as the others. So if they must eat them, at least this version is better for them. Try this with other foods as well, if all your child will eat is pasta, go for the whole wheat pasta’s that have Omega 3 and flaxseed in them, they will get more vitamins and minerals and less wasted calories.

Make Food Fun - The best way to get your child to eat healthier meals is to make the food fun for them to eat. By having him or her help you make their food and creating a fun game out of it, your child will be more interested in actually trying the food they created. You could also try making tasting new foods a fun game; do a blind taste test of vegetables and fruits, and include a sibling or friend to join along. If the child sees someone else willing to try the foods, they will be more likely to do the same.
IMG_5999.JPG by eyeliam on Flickr

Give Them Their Own Space – Provide a low shelf or cupboard for your child to place their foods. Take them to the grocery store and help them pick out healthier versions of their favorite foods and allow them to put away their groceries in their own special place. They will feel like they have control over what choices they have and are more likely to eat the healthier versions because they helped choose them.  I personally only do this with fruits and vegetables.  My kids can pick the fresh produce they want, and they don’t have to ask me if they can eat it.

One At a Time – Incorporating a new food at each meal is the best way to coax your child into trying something new. Add a few pieces of a vegetable that they have never tried to the plate, they may just surprise you in trying it. Just don’t focus on that food, just place it on the plate and pretend like they already like it. Never force a child to clean their plate; the added pressure will have them refusing right off the bat. Let them make the decision about what they want to eat.   Also, try to have one food at each meal that you know your child will eat.  And then don’t make a meal or item just for the picky eater.  That will only make it worse.  Unless there is an underlying medical condition, your child will be fine even if they eat nothing at a meal.  Be careful on the snacking though.  You don’t want them to fill up on unhealthy foods between meals.

We also want to make sure picky eaters get the adequate vitamins needed to grow strong and healthy. It is recommended to incorporate into their schedule a multi-vitamin so they get the vitamins they are lacking from food.  

Extreme Pickiness - In my experience, the pickiest eaters often have sensory issues.  The tastes and textures of the foods overwhelm them.  If you think this is an issue, discuss it with your medical provider.  Especially if your child seems extremely picky and you are doing everything right and still are making no progress.  You may be able to do some sensory integration work which can help.  Your medical provider can refer you to a feeding therapist and possibly discover a diagnosis of sensory processing disorder, oral defensiveness or feeding disorder.


1 comment:

  1. great information here!! and I bet as an NP you have to deal with these issues many times..I have 8 kids and had only one picky eater...she could not stand even the sight of meat....I know every chick pea recipe that was ever thought of.
    I put apple sauce and pumpkin in my brownies...still do. but the meat was the issue...our MD said hot dogs "count"..but really?! I could not in good conscious give her more than 2 hot dogs a week...we would all sit around the dinner table saying "mmm..this meat is so good." she never bought that either...she is 23 now and loves meat...
    I am your newest follower..pls follow back if you can.