Monday, December 2, 2013

Toddler Dilemmas: Picky eaters

I've been blessed with a great eater who has tried (and enjoyed!) so many different kinds of food. That being said, Little C is still a toddler and is practicing asserting her independence and control over certain situations, including food preferences. This month's issue of Parents actually has a great article about picky eaters which reinforces some things I was already doing. Here are some simple tips to help you along.

Variety: Presenting your child with a variety of food has many benefits. If you keep serving different foods, your child won't get so used to just eating one thing that they refuse everything else. It may also help them be open to trying new foods as they grow. Serving a specific food in different ways can also encourage your child to try them. Maybe carrot sticks just don't look as yummy as coins!

Choice: It can be difficult to be flexible when you try and plan your meals ahead of time to use the foods you have on hand, but the more choices you can give your child the more control they'll feel they have. Small choices such as, "should we have broccoli or peas with dinner?" will be easier for you and actually less overwhelming for your child than "what do you want for dinner?" Letting them choose often means they will eat what they picked and as long as both choices are healthy you both win! For example, this morning I was making eggs but Little C grabbed her bowl of leftover chicken and rice from last night and refused to let it go. So what happened? She had some chicken and rice for breakfast along with a banana and then sausage, eggs and pears for lunch.

Exposure: That article I mentioned above mentioned that it could take 15-20 exposures to a food before a child likes it. 15-20! That's a lot! So how do you do it without force-feeding or starving your child? Continue to serve something even if your child doesn't like it, but serve it alongside something they will eat so the entire meal isn't a bust. Also, ask your child if they'd like to bite or lick/kiss the unwanted food. Little C is often willing to kiss or lick something when "just take one bite" leads to stubborn toddler defiance. Licking or kissing is still an exposure! And if you're lucky, that lick could lead to eating it all!

Don't force: The more you try to force something, the more likely toddlers (and teenagers and adults...) are to refuse. Meal time will then become a battle ground where no one is happy and cooperative! If your child won't eat lunch, say "Ok, maybe you'll be hungry for snack" and serve something similar.

Eat together: Children learn by modeling and if they see you eating, they'll be more likely to eat. Plus sitting down together for a family meal has been shown to be all kinds of beneficial! As soon as you can, serve your child the same thing you're eating, just in toddler form (that usually means smaller pieces). You may have to toss some meals out of rotation for a while if you can't make them toddler friendly but it will pay off in the long run!

Hopefully these tips will help you avoid too many meal time meltdowns!

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