Almost every child goes through a picky eater stage…and some seem like they will never come out of it. How do you get a nutritious diet into a kid who won’t eat anything green or white, or who refuses to eat anything except chicken nuggets or macaroni and cheese? Nearly two thirds of parents describe at least one problem with their child’s eating, according to a study in Contemporary Pediatrics, so you are definitely not alone here–millions of parents feel your pain. There’s more to this dilemma than just tempting a picky eater, but that is a great way to start. Here are some practical solutions to helping your kid get the nutrition they need, without the wailing and gnashing of teeth.
1. RELAX. Sure, this sounds contradictory to the title of tempting a picky eater, but you’d be surprised at how much you can do by doing very little at all. There are no significant differences in overall nutrient intake between picky eaters and other kids, another study in the same journal found. And most likely, your child’s diet seems worse than it is. Unless your son subsists on white rice and water for months at a time, or your daughter only eats french fries drowned in ketchup for weeks on end, you don’t have a huge problem. Just ride it out. Make meals and serve them as normal, and the phase will usually peter itself out with time.
2. Let go of your end of the emotional rope. You can’t force your child to do anything, especially eat, so just stop trying. Simply offer her nutritious, varied foods — and eat them yourself. She can have hers, or not, but you’re showing her how.
3. Give straightforward praise, even if he takes only one bite of something new. For example: “It’s great that you tried the chili!” Basing the praise on how you feel (“Mommy’s so happy!”) sends a questionable message: He controls your emotions with his fork.
4. Don’t get hung up on the time of day your child eats, or how much she eats at a sitting. It’s okay if your kid doesn’t eat three square meals every day as long as over the course of a week or two she eats things from each food group.
5. Offer choices that don’t matter. You may face stubborn insistence that toast have a corner unbuttered to avoid messy hands, or that cereal be served only in a Go Diego Go! bowl, or that nothing touch. While this kind of behavior is draining, it’s typical at this age, says Dr. Strauss. Give him an option — the green plate or the blue? Offering your child a limited choice is often enough to end the power struggle. But make your rules clear: “At home, you can choose your cup, but when we’re out, you have to use whatever they have.”
6. Accomodate certain choices. Many kids develop an aversion to things such as meat or certain textured foods. If your child simply doesn’t want to eat meat, accomodate their decision by offering enough non-meat proteins that he or she doesn’t end up deprived. If they don’t like “slimy” or “mushy” foods, try introducing more raw veggies instead of cooked ones, etc. Tempting a picky eater just takes a bit of forethought and preparation.
7. Makes veggies more appealing. The most common food aversion in kids is the anti-vegetable stance. Hide vegetables by pureeing them and adding them to sauces and soups (zucchini, squash, carrot, tomato, spinach, pumpkin, tomato, onion, etc., all puree and blend beautifully into a spaghetti sauce, chili, etc….they boost the flavor and the nutritional content, without any “yucky” textures. Give raw vegetables with a dipping sauce. Saute peppers, onions, etc., until they caramelize. Make carrot or zucchini bread or muffins. Serve finely diced or julienned vegetables in tortillas or lettuce wraps, with a sweet teriyaki or honey mustard sauce and some kind of meat like turkey or chicken. The possibilities for camouflaging vegetables are practically endless.
8. Make the most of color aversions. If your child won’t eat anything green or anything that isn’t white, you just have to be more creative. Green vegetables are rich in certain vitamins like A, C, and K, but those same vitamins are also found in other foods, like carrots, sweet potatoes (make them into fries), milk, mozzarella cheese, egg yolks, fruits like canteloupes and apples, beans, citrus fruits, etc. If your kid loves white stuff, sneak vitamins in by making vanilla yogurt smoothies with bananas, make chicken and rice with broth and mushrooms, etc. Again, there are many ways to camouflage and integrate the good stuff to sidestep the color aversion.