It’s time to eat, but your child is making it difficult. He won’t touch his carrots or peas. She turns up her nose to broccoli and green beans.
The experts say first: Don’t panic. Fussy, selective or picky eaters usually grow out of their habits. It might take 15 to 20 exposures to a new food over time before a child will accept it.
“Every child is different,” said Rhonda Seifert, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Marshfield Clinic. “Some are shy. Some are pretty adamant (and) unwilling to try new foods. It’s natural for a child to show some independence.”
“It is hard for a parent,” Seifert said. “You worry. Are they getting enough?”
Get your child away from picky eating habits
- Show by example. “Make sure as a parent you’re eating a variety of foods,” Seifert said.
- Add less liked foods to a plate with foods your child will eat. Provide what you know he will eat, but include foods you know he is fussy about.
- Serve regular meals and snacks. Serve 3 small meals a day plus 2 to 3 healthy snacks. Try to keep a routine as much as possible.
- Eat as a family so children can see you eat.
- Offer foods in a different form. Some children will eat raw vegetables but not cooked versions.
- Make foods attractive. Google healthy snack images to get ideas for presentation. If you have time, you can create interesting looking snacks to intrigue picky eaters.
- Embrace healthy snacks. “Snacking is a good area to focus on because foods are not mixed together,” Seifert said. “Even picky eaters, within the fruit and vegetable group there is usually one thing they will try.”
She suggested yogurt, graham crackers, cheese, peanut butter and a glass a milk, along with fruit and vegetables, as healthy snack choices.
Should you trick your picky eaters?
Seifert said not to try to sneak vegetables into your child’s food.
“Carrots in a casserole are fine if your child has acquired a taste for them,” she said. But it’s good to introduce foods first. If a child notices, she might lose trust and not want to try new foods.
Seifert said to seek help if your child refuses an entire food group or has an aversion to food textures. You also should see an expert if your child is losing weight or not gaining at the right rate.
Simple snack suggestions for picky eaters:
- Crackers with cheese or peanut butter
- Dry cereals (avoid overly sweetened cereals)
- Dried fruit
- Nuts (do not give nuts to young children)
- Cookies (bake your own and cut sugar by 1/3; i.e. oatmeal raisin)
- Fresh, cut-up veggies: cucumber, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower – use some type of dip or salad dressing, such as ranch
- Fresh fruit: apples, bananas, berries, melons, oranges, pineapple, nectarines
- Dried fruit: apples, apricots, raisins, papaya
- Add cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese and/or peanut butter to provide fat and protein.
Need healthful snacks on the go? Try these snacks to fuel your next sports practice.