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Ask a Dietitian: Picky Eaters
by Courtney Berry, Dietetic Intern
Q: I have a child who is a “picky eater” and is unwilling to try new foods. I am concerned that he is not getting the nutrition that he needs. Any suggestions to help him try new foods or have any secrets to hide nutritious ingredients in meals?
A: This is a great question since it can be challenging getting some children to try new foods. Kids (ages 2 to 6 years) have a natural preference for sweet-salty foods and distaste for sour-bitter foods. As a result, kids tend to eat only certain foods they like and are reluctant to try other foods-called the “food-jag phase”. The best method to get kids to try new foods is to allow them to be involved in the selection and preparation of meals.
A few ways to encourage picky-eaters include:
- Allowing them to help choose fresh vegetables and fruits while grocery shopping
- Assisting in meal preparation (depending on their age and fine motor skills) by slicing, chopping, stirring, mixing, using cookie cutters to form foods into shapes and measuring foods
- Having them look up information about foods (i.e. where certain foods come from, how they are grown, different foods from countries, interesting facts about certain foods, and brainstorming ways to prepare new foods)
- Encouraging them to try at least one or two bites of a food to see if they like it-some kids assume they do not like a certain food based on appearance and peer influence
- Cooking meals that smell, look, and taste good to stimulate interest in trying new foods
- Choosing to use descriptive sensory qualities of food, such as “kiwis are sweet like strawberries” or “celery is crunchy like carrots.”
- Offering a food they like at mealtime along with several other food options to choose from (offer 2 to 3 additional food options for them to choose and saying “would you like to try broccoli, peas or both?”)
- Dressing up plain vegetables and fruits (i.e. cooked broccoli with low-fat cheese or apple slices thinly spread with natural peanut-butter)
- Make family meal time enjoyable by setting a positive, calm environment without distractions. Also be a good role-model for your children by eating healthy food choices
- Do not force your child to eat if they are not hungry-it is important for them to learn their satiety or “fullness” cues
You could also puree or blend certain foods (i.e. vegetables) in a food processor and add them to a main meal (i.e. meatloaf or soup) to ensure kids are receiving vital nutrients. If you are concerned that your child is not eating enough nutrient-rich foods, ask your child’s doctor if PediaSure® would be an appropriate supplement to add to their diet.
Above all, be patient with children and do not make a big deal about their current food preferences-most kids grow out of the “food-jag” phase once their taste buds mature.
For nutritional counseling, Norman Regional Health System offers the guidance of registered dietitians. Those interested can schedule an appointment for an assessment with a referral from their family physician.
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