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Are your kids finicky eaters?

Hospital news | Thursday, November 3, 2016

Contact: Crossing Rivers Communications

Do you dread dinner? If you're the parent of a finicky eater, who can blame you? Heated arguments and high drama over peas and carrots are not any fun, and throwing away perfectly good food your child refuses to eat isn’t either!

“Children can be very picky eaters, but most of them grow up to enjoy a wide variety of foods,” said Shelby Moose, Registered Dietitian with Crossing Rivers Health. “In the meantime, however, here are several tips to make meals less of a struggle.”

Relax. You may worry that your child won't grow normally due to lack of food. But such cases are rare. Your family physician will check your child's growth at each checkup. If there's a nutrition problem, your doctor will tell you.

Provide lots of good choices. Kids can't snack on junk food if there's none in the house. So stock the cupboards and fridge with lots of healthful items, such as whole grain crackers and peanut butter, fresh fruit, whole grain cereal, or plain popcorn. That way, even if children dislike some of the foods, they'll end up eating something that's good for them.

Choose your battles. Forcing children to choke down a whole plateful of food they hate will backfire. Mad, stressed-out kids are even less likely to want to eat. Instead, take a deep breath and count to 10. Do whatever it takes to appear patient. And then calmly try to strike some compromises. If children don't like anything on the table, have them choose the item that offends them the least. If they don't like the look of a new food, ask them to try at least one ‘polite’ bite, but don’t force it! Offer praise and encouragement.

Try and try again. It may take as many as 10-15 tries before a food finally clicks with a child, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Keep offering new foods. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests introducing a new food at the start of a meal.

Be a good role model. If you shy away from fruits and veggies, your little ones probably will too. Set a positive example by eating a broad range of healthful foods.

Get kids involved. Children are more likely to eat if they're vested in the meal. Involve them in menu planning, grocery shopping, cooking and cleanup.

Create a mood. A happy, calm and relaxing setting will help children focus on eating. Give them a 5-minute warning before meals so that they can make the transition from playing to eating. Minimize distractions by turning off the television and all electronic devices. Eat meals at the same time each day, and strive to have dinner as a family.

Switch gears. Making sure finicky kids get all the vitamins and minerals they need is challenging. But key nutrients are present in a variety of foods. If your child doesn't like one food, another can provide the nutrients he or she needs. For example, children who don't like vegetables can get vitamin C from grapefruit, oranges, melons and strawberries. Kids who don't drink milk, can get calcium from low-fat cheeses; yogurt; dark green, leafy vegetables; and fortified orange juice. And children who don't eat meat can get protein from beans and other legumes, dairy foods, eggs and peanut butter.

Shelby Moose adds, “I encourage parents to avoid using food as a reward for good behavior or to withhold a special treat as a means of punishment. These mixed messages can be confusing and can undermine the healthy eating habits you are trying to teach. Don’t give up! Keep trying and stay patient. It is also important to contact your family physician if you have any concerns.”