Do you have a picky eater? Most parents are worried if their toddler or preschooler is eating the right foods or getting enough nutrition. A picky eater is normal for this age. Children this age love the feeling of being in control, that is, choosing what food to eat and how much food they are going to take. But how do you manage a child that is selective on food? Here is a guide to help you deal with a young picky eater.
To support your child's growth and development, you need to incorporate the needed nutrients in your child's diet. Nutrients such as: Protein (lean meat, poultry, seafood, beans, unsalted nuts, and soy. Make sure to test for allergies!), a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (can be canned or frozen but have low-sodium), fruit juices that are fresh and has less sugar, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy. Here is a nutrient daily guide for toddlers and preschoolers:
What makes a child be a picky eater?
There are several reasons why your tot is a picky eater. (1) It could be due to a poor variety of foods; they are often served their favorite meal. (2) They might be sensitive to taste, texture, and smell. (3) It could also be due to pressuring them to eat (bribe, reward, etc.), (4) their parents' eating habits could influence them, (5) your child is trying to be independent and controlling. They decide on whether to eat or not. We as parents should be patient, introduce them to different foods from time to time, and make their mealtime fun and encouraging.
Tips for Parents:
1. Offer a child-friendly variety of foods
Your daily menu should not be limited to your child's favorites. You can serve a balanced diet that includes starch, protein, vegetable, and fruit. It may take a several times to offer a new food to your child before they agree to taste it. To avoid waste, it is best to serve in small amounts. If it fails, kids can always eat pasta or bread. As for reintroducing foods, you can serve the food again after a week or two. Try to add some herbs or spices to make the food tastier.
Try to monitor your child's meals. Your child may have eaten a full meal on breakfast or lunch, making him eat less at snack time or dinner. It's okay if your child refuses to eat, do not pressure or fight them. Forcing them to eat can make them have a negative association with foods. Allow your child to listen to their bodies and eat if they feel hungry. Make mealtimes fun; your child will be more likely to enjoy eating if there is no pressure.
3. Eating with the Family
Dining with the family has many benefits. It allows the parents to be the role models in teaching healthy eating habits and table manners. Young children will have various foods to choose from when eating with the family and become less picky eaters. Let your kid eat what is served and avoid making different food for them, promoting picky eating. You may include one of his favorite foods in your family menu, but it should still be a well-balanced diet.
4. Avoid distractions
Some parents use distractions to feed their little ones, which is not good as children miss their chance to participate in their food experience. Exposure to food and things associated with mealtime allows sensory learning. Children will learn more through their senses like holding a spoon, picking up their food, touching, and smelling. This way, they will be more engaged in eating and be encouraged to know more about the foods' color, taste, texture, and smell. Learning to eat is a continuous process for a child, and he will not be able to do it if there are distractions around him. He will not notice his food or eating utensils if an iPad is around. Remove tablets, TVs, mobile phones during mealtimes. The family should be eating, bonding, and sharing stories, and that is what you need to influence your child.
5. Consistent meal schedule
Schedule your child's mealtime. Set a consistent time for breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, and bedtime snack for your child. This will help them get used to it and make their hunger in tune with this meal schedule. It will also encourage them to eat more or try different foods as your child will expect you to serve food during those times.
6. Plan meals with your child
Young kids love to exercise control, and a good way to use it is by letting them choose what to include in family meals. You can let them pick their preferred fruits or veggies. Let them join in meal preparation like mixing, pouring, etc., of course, with your supervision. You can browse child-friendly cookbooks and let them select recipes to try. When kids feel they are involved, they will become more interested in food and eating.
7. Making meals presentable
Make your child's meals look presentable and fun. Young kids are attracted to colors. Prepare a variety of colorful foods or arranged them creatively. You can also cut fruits or veggies in different shapes or sizes, make a smiley face out of it, or make an irresistibly good dip. Another way to captivate their attention is to know their interests. If her favorite character loves to eat carrots, remind her of it and make it an example.
8. Limit sweets and high calorie drinks
Check how much juice or milk your child consumes in a day. High-calorie drinks or sweets can make them full and lose their appetite during mealtimes. Their juice should only be around 4 ounces a day, and for milk, it should be 12 ounces per day. Also, make sure your child is eating healthy. Sodas, junk foods, and too many sweets may cause obesity, leading to diabetes type 2 in kids, and may cause other diseases.
9. Don't extend mealtimes
Extending your child's meal schedule will not make him eat more. It is like forcing him to eat, which adds pressure and is not healthy for your child. The maximum timeframe you can give is 30 minutes. You can let your child leave the table after the said timeframe, and he can wait for the next scheduled meal if he gets hungry. No need to pressure. Make sure to create an enjoyable, healthy eating environment for your child.
10. Keep trying
If your child refuses the food you served, do not be disappointed, momma! It takes around 10 to 15 times for young kids to try and get used to a new food, so keep trying! It is their natural response to reject foods that they do not know. Offer each food one at a time. You can reintroduce foods after 1 to 2 weeks, and eventually, they will learn to get familiar with it, learn to love or get used to its taste.
Different factors may influence your child's eating behavior. Picky eating is normal and temporary as kids usually outgrow it. As parents, we need to support and guide them to eat healthy foods and develop healthy habits. It just needs a lot of patience, time, and continuous food reintroduction to overcome the pickiness. Consult with your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child's diet, weight gain, and growth.