Picky eating is a common phenomenon observed during a child’s developmental stages, characterized by selective food preferences and reluctance to try new foods. It is a prevalent concern among parents, as it often persists throughout childhood. Research conducted in the United States reveals that between 13% and 22% of children are reported to exhibit picky eating behaviors, particularly between ages 2 to 11.

Whether you’re an experienced physician or a practitioner just enrolled in an FNP online program, you will understand how important overcoming picky eating preferences is for children’s health. This is because picky eating has broader implications than we think for children and their families. Children require diverse nutrients for well-being, but picky eating habits may hinder their ability to obtain these essential nutrients. Picky eating can also introduce stress during mealtime, trigger conflicts within the family, and evoke feelings of guilt or inadequacy in parents. While picky eating may not directly influence children’s physical development, it can present challenges for both children and their families, requiring understanding and proactive management strategies.

6 strategies to help with your child’s eating habits

Now we are going to introduce six strategies to help you tackle picky eating in children and foster healthy eating habits.

1. Mealtime Gatherings: Make Eating a Family Activity

Regular family meals provide an opportunity for bonding and nutritional education. Ideally, aim to have at least one family meal together daily or three to four times weekly. During these meals, parents can engage children in conversations about food and discuss the benefits of various nutrients for health. For example, parents can mention that carrots will provide Vitamin A, which is beneficial for eyesight.

Gathering around the table and sharing a meal as a family not only ensures safety by reducing the risk of choking but also promotes mindful eating.

2. Stay Relaxed: Avoid Self-Blame but Maintain Boundaries

Many new parents lack experience in raising children and may overreact to children’s picky eating phenomenon. They may blame themselves for their child’s picky eating habits and worry about their child’s health. Such emotions from parents could be transmitted to the child, fostering mutual anxiety within the family and hindering the cultivation of healthy eating habits. Parents need to grasp that picky eating is a natural part of a child’s developmental journey, as children inherently possess their preferences over time. Instead of self-blame, parents can create a relaxed mealtime environment by conducting some conversations with their children. It will promote positive associations with food.

However, it doesn’t imply an unconditional tolerance of picky eating behaviors. Parents shouldn’t chase after a wobbly toddler with a spoon to force-feed them or permit a preschooler to eat in front of the TV. Parents need to set boundaries and stay firm by establishing routines like set meal times and locations for children. It will help children recognize that not every moment is for eating or snacking, which can facilitate the development of consistent eating habits.

3. Set examples: Children learn from imitation

If during meal times you and your partner are both glued to your phone screens, what do you think your children will do? They’ll likely find it acceptable to watch Peppa Pig on a tablet while eating. Children always learn by observing their parents’ behaviors and attitudes towards food. As parents, it’s important to set a good example for your children. Let them see you eating a variety of vegetables, trying foods you haven’t eaten before, and occasionally indulging in snacks.

If there’s a food you don’t particularly enjoy, try it in front of your child, showing them that it’s okay to try new things gradually. By modeling healthy eating behaviors, you can instill lifelong habits in your child.

4. Sweet temptations: Not a long-term solution

It’s common for parents to resort to using sweets as a reward for eating other foods, especially when faced with mealtime tantrums. This scenario is like a Deja Vu in many parents’ minds: a child refuses to eat, cries loudly, throws their bowl on the floor, making a mess. At this point, parents often feel exhausted. Then how to quickly stop all this and restore peace at home? Many parents compromise by saying to the child: ‘If you eat this bite of broccoli, I’ll give you a cookie as a reward.’

Using sweets as a reward for eating other foods can reinforce unhealthy eating habits and undermine the value of nutritious foods. It also can lead to nightly battles at the dinner table. Whether you offer dessert after a meal or during snack time, it should not be presented as a reward for eating a meal. Parents can also explore healthier dessert options such as fruit salads, yogurt parfaits, or homemade treats made with natural ingredients.

5. Get Hands-On: Involve children in cooking

Involving children in cooking can increase their interest in food and promote positive associations with mealtime. Allow your child to participate in age-appropriate tasks such as washing vegetables, mixing ingredients, and serving meals. Parents can use cooking as an opportunity to teach their children about nutrition, food safety, and kitchen skills. Specifically, you can talk about the appearance, texture, smell, and taste of fruits or vegetables. You can also encourage your children to touch and use their senses to connect with food, stimulating their interest in food. In this process, children can visually connect the dishes with fresh ingredients, which can enhance their cognitive and motor skills.

Parents can also use molds to make various cute and interesting shapes with food to attract children to eat. Flower and star-shaped carrots and cucumbers, or some made-up stories could make mealtime more fun.child02

6. Offer Choices: Trust your children’s independence

Giving your child opportunities to make decisions about their food choices and portions can foster a sense of independence. Many parents worry about their fussy eaters’ nutrition or growth, and they may feel the need to let the child eat what they want, and that’s understandable. It is the parent’s role to provide balanced meals, but eating or not eating is the child’s choice. Trust that your child will eat when hungry and respect their appetite. If they don’t eat, they can wait until the next meal.

Encouraging your child to have a sense of independence is an excellent way to encourage them to try new foods. You can ask your child to choose a new healthy food at the supermarket, cook with them in the kitchen, and offer the food they like and the new food they haven’t tried while eating. Allowing children to make choices at the dinner table will make them feel like an independent little person. Things might get messy, but your child will be proud and excited to try the food they helped make.

Summary

Overall, transforming picky eating habits requires patience, consistency, and a supportive environment. By implementing these strategies, parents can help their children develop healthy eating habits that will benefit them throughout their lives. When you find it challenging to deal with your picky eaters, you can always seek assistance from professionals.

 


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