Good nutrition is not only important for your child’s development, but it is also critical to her overall good health and well-being. If she’s not eating enough – or not eating enough of the right things – there are steps you can take to help her develop healthy eating habits while boosting her appetite for foods that are good for her.
And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which [is] upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which [is] the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. —Genesis 1:29, KJV
Dealing With a Picky Eater
Every child is different, and it’s normal for kids’ appetites to fluctuate over time. Usually, periods of not wanting to eat much or only wanting to eat certain foods are temporary and won’t have an impact on your little one’s overall health.
Some children, particularly at the toddler and preschool stages, resist their parents’ attempts to get them to eat as a way of asserting their own power. If your child is giving you a hard time about eating, be careful not to use food as a punishment, reward or bribe, or he’ll learn to associate food as a control for behavior, rather than fuel for his body.
Set a Good Example
It’s important to let your children see you eating a variety of foods. Have family meals together and use that time for positive interaction and fun conversation that includes the kids. Provide a well-balanced menu and model good eating habits.
Encourage your children to try everything, but don’t force them to eat everything on the plate. Let them know it’s ok to leave a little if they’re full, rather than overeating in order not to “waste food.”
Stick to a Schedule
Routine is important to children, especially when they are young. Regular meal times will help your child naturally regulate her hunger. While it’s fine to offer snacks during the day, avoid snacking before meals so that your child comes to the table with an appetite. In between meals, provide easy access to healthy snacks like cut up fruits and vegetables.
Consistent Variety Is Key
Introduce new foods on a regular basis, and keep rotating them back into the menu, even if they aren’t well-received the first time. Just because your child refused to eat a particular food one day doesn’t mean he won’t eat it at all. If he consistently declines to try cooked carrots at the dinner table, for example, try introducing them as an ingredient in muffins or cookies, or served as a snack between meals, cut up with other veggies you know he likes.
Texture and color matter to children, sometimes a great deal. While you shouldn’t cater to your little one’s every whim, take note if he seems to prefer crunchy over soft or mushy textures, or cooked over raw foods. If he associates a particular color with an unhappy eating experience, look for ways to change or mask the color.
Make it fun to eat right, suggests Mayo Clinic, by serving cut up veggies with a favorite dip or sauce, cutting foods into fun shapes and by letting your child help you prepare meals. However, while it’s good to make eating right pleasant, avoid catering to your child by cooking her special meals, Mayo Clinic warns, adding,
Preparing a separate meal for your child after he or she rejects the original meal might promote picky eating. Encourage your child to stay at the table for the designated mealtime — even if he or she doesn’t eat. Keep serving your child healthy choices until they become familiar and preferred.
If you’re concerned that picky eating is compromising your child’s growth and development, consult your child’s doctor. In addition, consider recording the types and amounts of food your child eats for three days. The big picture might help ease your worries. A food log can also help your child’s doctor determine any problems. In the meantime, remember that your child’s eating habits won’t likely change overnight — but the small steps you take each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.