Many parents often worry about their child’s nutrition and food choices. Whether you have a toddler or a teenager, picking eating can be a concern at any age. Meal time can be stressful with busy lives and trying to make sure your kids are eating healthy. Although some kids may be good eaters, pickiness can be a normal thing for many children. Meal time should generally be a positive time for your family to connect. By having reasonable expectations with your child’s eating habits, hopefully you will enjoy this time together.
After the rapid growth that babies experience in their first year of life, their rate of growth and their appetite will slow down. Some table foods that your baby seemed to once like can now be foods they refuse. Toddlers can develop strong preferences with their food choices and sometimes want the same food(s) every day only to later refuse them all together. As toddlers, it becomes their job to learn control over their body and its functions. Choosing what foods to eat is one of the areas they can control. Try not to get frustrated as this is normal toddler behavior.
If you’re worried your toddler is not eating enough during a day, try looking at how much they have eaten over the last few days. Often a toddler will have lighter days of eating and other days surprise you at how much they can consume!
A good rule of thumb is to remember – It is your job as a parent to provide healthy choices for you child. It is your child’s job to choose how much of what you provide he or she will eat.
Although Preschool age children may still be quite picky (only wanting to eat chicken nuggets or hot dogs!) they can start to be willing to try new foods. This is a great age to support your child to “try 1 bite of everything on your plate”. Do not get into a power struggle, but definitely encourage them to be adventurous. They may be surprised they like something new!
If your child only wants the same thing at meal time, try offering 1 familiar, healthy food choice they like and offer something new that the family is trying. In time, hopefully they will be willing to expand their food choices.
School age children are often over the fears of trying new foods, but can still like their familiar food choices. Resist the urge to make your child their own separate meal if they do not like what you are offering. This will only encourage picky eating! Continue to offer healthy choices at meal time and let them choose how much they need to eat. Kids are generally good at knowing when they are hungry and need nutrition to grow. As a parent, provide a variety of healthy food choices for meal time. Keep the meal environment relaxed and enjoyable.
In the busy stage of having kids in Middle and High school, meal time can be a great way to connect with your teen. Although it can be difficult to have family meals together, make it a goal to have at least 5 family meals per week. Make your time enjoyable. Turn off the electronics and talk with each other!
Include your teen in the meal planning and preparing of meals. Often, if your child has a part in the food preparation, they will be willing to eat what they have cooked.
- 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day
- 3 servings of dairy/Calcium rich foods
- 2-3 servings of meat/protein per day
- 3-5 servings of whole grains Breakfast every morning
- Drink water instead of juice or sugary drinks
- Eat meals together as a family at least 5 times a week
Tips to Help with Picky Eating:
- Eat together as a family as often as you can.
- Resist the urge to make a separate meal if your child does not like what you’ve prepared.
- Keep trying! Some times it can take a child 10 times or more of exposure to a new food before they like it. Involve your kids in meal planning and meal preparing (with supervision).
- Offer a variety of healthy choices including fruits, vegetables, meat, proteins and calcium rich foods. Set a good example as a parent. Let your kids see you willing to try new things and eat healthy food.
- Limit the amount of unhealthy foods and sugary drinks your child consumes. If you want them to eat less junk food and sugary drinks, don’t buy it or at least limit how much is in the house.
- Relax! Don’t get into a power struggle with eating. Continue to offer healthy choices of the foods you would like them to eat and let your kids decide how much they need to eat at meal time.
- Enjoy meal time together as a family! Laugh, talk and turn off the electronics. Make meal time a time to reconnect as a family.
If you continue to worry about your child’s weight (underweight or overweight) and nutritional habits, this would be a good time to see your Pediatrician. By having routine well visits and tracking your child’s growth patterns on their growth chart, you can see how your child is progressing.