YOUR PICKY EATER. My child won t eat any vegetables!

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1 YOUR PICKY EATER My child won t eat any vegetables! That is one of the most common phrases often heard in a pediatrician s office. We also often hear how a child is so picky when it comes to eating. Well relax, this is quite typical and can often be overcome with a little planning and an attitude adjustment. That is by adjusting our attitudes as parents our children most often pick the right action, which is to eat most of what is given to them. The following is general advice for how to deal with a selective eater. Some of the ideas mentioned here will only work with certain aged kids, but the concepts can be adjusted to fit your child s age and personality. Also remember that there are many different ways to shape your child s eating habits. These are just some of the things that we have found to be successful in changing a child s diet. Why we do what we do. Primarily, we eat to get energy to perform our daily activities. Our bodies let us know when we are low on energy and need to refuel. Humans were made to love sugars and fats. This is because we need a form of energy that is quickly accessible; that s what sugars are for. And, we need to be able to store energy for times when food is not available. That is what fats are for. Humans also want to binge eat. These instincts were great when cave people were running from saber toothed tigers or when food was very scarce. But in our society, food is plentiful and readily available. Unfortunately, our bodies don t know that. So, we must follow our instincts to a point but adjust our eating habits as needed. Why children are hard to feed Children s eating habits are guided by their taste, activity level, developmental stage, personality, environment, human instinct, and family traditions. Therefore, there are a lot of factors at play here. Developmentally, children one to three years of age seek control, independence, and action. They often attempt to control their environment by controlling what goes in, out, or on their bodies (sound familiar?). Children exert independence by making their own food choices and deciding when to eat. And, children will often choose play and activity over anything that requires they sit still. All these things make it much easier for the child to eat large amounts of what tastes the best to them. Older children who are picky eaters are often carrying over bad habits learned when they were toddlers. So, making changes earlier in your child s life will make them better eaters when they grow up. Why children s diets change from day to day Generally, the quality of a young child s diet should be judged on a weekly basis instead of on a daily basis. It is common and safe for a child to eat only one or two foods in a day. Chances are, if you follow your child s selections, they will likely balance their diet themselves over a period of 5 to 7 days; choosing

2 grains/pasta on one day, meats on another, and fruits and/or veggies on another (Yes, there are some kids who only eat veggies and don t like fruits). Likewise, children are often erratic. So, expect your child to eat heartily one day and almost nothing the next. In general, if your child eats a complete compliment of foods over a period of a week, then you don t necessarily have to make any changes. What to do to encourage a more healthy diet Please remember that your main job is simply to buy the right food, prepare it nutritiously (steamed rather than boiled, baked rather than fried), and serve it creatively. The rest is up to the kids. They generally know when and how much to eat. Typically developing children will not let themselves starve, so don t worry if your child goes several days without eating. If parents provide children with the right factors, then they will make right choices. Here are some things to remember: Your child is watching. You need to model good behaviors when eating. If you snack on chips, cookies, and cakes, then your child is likely to as well. Don t criticize. Don t tell others your child is a terrible eater. Be consistent. Both parents need to enforce the same eating habits. Don t give in to peer pressure. Though your child s eating may vary, they should not be allowed to have whatever they want when they want. If you want your child to have a fruit side dish instead of french fries, then stick to your guns. For toddlers who might tantrum, redirect them or remove them from the situation. Plan ahead. If you are going to be in a social setting where food is involved, pack your own healthy snacks, even if other children are eating junk food. Tell your child ahead of time so he or she will not be surprised. Praise them for healthy eating. It is always great to praise kids when they do good things. Remember, good feelings can come from eating the right things. Don't use food as a reward. Candy, cakes and cookies should not be used to soothe hurt feelings. Make your kids move. The more energy your kids need, the better their appetite and the more likely they will eat whatever is provided for them. Encourage alteration. Use of condiments is a good way to give your child a bit more control when eating certain foods. Give foods and condiments creative names and presentations to enhance your child's interest. Take your child shopping. Your child will generally be more accepting of situations where they are active participants. Shopping also allows for discussion of preferences and sets the stage for any upcoming food items that may be considered stressful or challenging.

3 Allow your child to help. Give your child a job for mealtime like setting the table, cleaning up, deciding on a theme, making place cards or food signs, choosing the seating arrangements. Again, it is another way to give some degree of control and choice to your child. The following is a recommended method of getting your child to eat unwanted foods. This can also work for introducing new foods to your toddler or school age child. Again, no program will work for everyone, but this plan has been successful for many children. It is not necessary to use this if your child has demonstrated that he or she will eat all kinds of foods over a period of a week. If your child always refuses veggies or meats, then this technique can be very helpful. It is important to remember some obvious points. Feed your child when he or she is hungry and introduce only one unwanted or new food at a time. Also, you have to trust in the basic fact that, in all likelihood, your child is normal and, therefore, will eat almost anything if hungry enough. The appropriate feedback is a very important step in producing a more enthusiastic eater. So, try to remain very calm and carefully choose which behaviors to respond to and which behaviors to ignore. The 10 Step Plan to Better Food Variety 1. Prepare a meal with 3-4 food items of your choosing. Try to obtain balance within a meal. These items should be foods that are familiar to your child and are generally well accepted. If possible, have your child help prepare the meal and maybe even pick a theme to decorate the table. This does not need to be done at every meal. 2. Allow your child to add one food item of their choosing to the meal. Anything your child can see in the pantry or fridge is fair game. Ice cream, cereal, or candy is acceptable. If you don t want your child to eat it, then don t have it available in the house. The item should also be something that is generally easy to prepare. 3. Give your child a small amount of water before the meal (several sips to several ounces). Fluids that contain sugar (fruit juice and milk included) can suppress appetite. The astute toddler may decide to load up on such drinks so that your child can survive the meal and not end up so hungry if your child decides not to eat what is in front of her. Water will prepare the mouth for eating and will eliminate complaints of being thirsty that are sure to come when your child is trying to resist the unwanted food.

4 4. Place a small amount of all items on a plate. One to two spoonfuls can suffice. The foods should be separated and the unwanted food can be positioned at 3 or 9 o clock. Have an array of dips, sauces, and condiments available for your child to use as your child wishes. 5. When your child eats all of the items, then give another small serving of all items. Give some sort of positive statement like Nice job or Your body likes it when you give it such good foods. If your child only eats the 3-4 comfortable items, then your child cannot have any more to eat. If your child is thirsty, then provide a drink only after the meal is finished. 6. Repeat the serving size until your child is ready to stop. Your child should eat about 4-5 servings until your child is considered to have taken a full meal s worth. Again, use lots of positive statements along the way. Over time, the serving size should increase as your child becomes more comfortable with new and different foods. 7. Offer another drink only after your child has finished. Once your child is done, then offer more water, some milk, and/or an alternative beverage. A small amount of diet soda, flavored water, smoothie, or fruit juice are good choices.. 8. Excuse your child from the table after they are finished or the family is done. If your entire family is eating and your child refuses to do so, it is best to remain positive by keeping your child at the table with the rest of the family. This promotes some degree of a positive interaction and allows your child to see good behavior modeled. Do not chastise your child for not eating. Do not make your child sit at the table until all the food is gone. Do not save the food to eat later. 9. The next meal is the next meal. If your child eats the unwanted food along with everything else, then it is OK to offer a snack between meals. If your child does not eat well (a reasonable amount of all foods offered), then your child can have only water until the next meal; even if that is the next day. This way, your child will be even hungrier when the next meal comes.

5 10. Give your child an out. We must leave room for personal taste. If your child eats a regular amount of a particular food dish on two separate occasions, then your child is allowed to put that food dish on a "don t eat list". Your child does not have to eat anything on their "don t eat list". Be sure to be specific when a food dish is listed. For example, if steamed broccoli is on the list, then you can offer cheese and broccoli on another occasion. Your child will soon learn that if he or she gives new and different foods an honest try, then there will be more control over the meal. As mentioned before, there are many different ways to encourage your child to become more comfortable with trying new and different foods. Being in touch with your child and giving chances for him or her to control the dining environment will maximize your success with making meal time pleasant and getting your child to eat a solid variety of foods. Below are some links to web sites that also offer good information and advice. A children s multivitamin is a good idea if your child is avoiding an entire food group or if their overall intake is highly irregular. Follow up with your pediatrician if you feel that meals are a continuing source of great stress or if your child is not gaining weight appropriately. Sometimes, there are more significant behavioral and psychological problems that are associated with poor eating. Kidshealth: Dealing With a Picky Eater Ask Dr. Sears, Feeding the Picky Eater

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