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Having a picky eater at home can be frustrating for parents, who may worry their kids are missing out on nutritious — and delicious — foods. Remember that most young children go through a pickiness phase, and they’ll eventually outgrow it. But that doesn’t make it any less stressful now. That’s why we’re sharing our tips for handling picky eaters at home.
After about age 2, your child’s growth slows down, so it’s normal for kids to occasionally lack an appetite. If their height and weight are healthy, don’t stress if your kid says they are “not hungry.” And don’t force them to eat a meal or snack. Forcing your child to clear their plate can cause negative associations with mealtime or spark control issues over food. If your child says they aren’t hungry, it’s possible that they’re just asserting their independence by deciding what they eat.
Eating healthy foods at snack time will help picky eaters get used to nourishing food. Avoid salty and sugary snack foods like potato chips and cookies. Set out fruits like bananas, grapes, and apples so they’re easy for your child to grab. Celery and peanut butter or carrots and hummus are excellent veggie snacks. You can also offer more fun yet healthy snacks like plain popcorn, fresh fruit and milk smoothies, healthy bran muffins, or homemade applesauce. Just avoid serving snacks too close to mealtimes, which might decrease their appetite.
Remember that your young child may be experiencing new food for the very first time. It’s understandable if they don’t like it right away. If you put too much pressure on your child to like a certain food right away, they’ll become more stubborn the next time they’re given it. Ask them to eat a bite or two and then let it go if they don’t want to finish it. Reintroduce the same food a few days later along with a food you know your child likes. Some studies show that it takes kids 11 to 15 tries to any given food before they “like” it.
Catering to your picky eater by preparing a separate meal can make the problem worse. Prepare and serve one meal for the whole family, including one thing you know everyone likes (like pasta!). If your picky eater refuses the prepared meal but is still hungry, give them one healthy alternative that they can get themselves, like a piece of fruit. There’s a good chance your child will stay put and try the meal that the rest of the family is enjoying, especially if they aren’t given extra attention when being picky.
Be creative when it comes to presenting meals. Use cookie cutters to cut food into fun shapes. Tell a story with a meal; for example, serve dino-shaped chicken nuggets along with broccoli “trees” or spinach “bushes.” Arrange colorful fruits or veggies into rainbow patterns. Set up family-style meals so that kids can create their own dish. For example, do a family taco night with lots of healthy toppings: red cabbage, cherry tomatoes, corn, and avocado. Let your child choose which toppings they’d like. Even if they only choose protein and avocado, they’re still benefiting from that healthy option.
Have the whole family eat at the table together without distractions from phones or the TV. Focus on eating and talking with each other. By bonding over conversation and food, everyone becomes more comfortable and happy, and mealtimes become effortless. Even if your picky eater refuses the meal, have them stay at the table until mealtime is over, and don’t make a fuss over it. Your child is more likely to begin picking at their food and eating again, especially if the rest of the family is enjoying each other’s company.
Set some guidelines for when your child can have sweets and treats, and what that includes. Is it one dessert per day? One treat after school? Allowing them sweets sparingly rather than banning them overall can help avoid overindulgence when those foods are available. Plan what sweets to have on hand and when they’re allowed.
You can also swap out whole milk with a2 Milk® chocolate milk for an after school treat. Even while they’re going through their “picky phase,” you can rest easy know they’re getting their calcium and other vitamins — without antibiotics or growth hormones that may affect them later in life.