Are you battling to get your child to eat a balanced diet? Have mealtimes become a power struggle between you and your child? Try some of these tips to help a picky eater get a balanced meal

1. Respect your child’s appetite or lack of one

Don’t insist on a meal or snack if your child is not hungry, and don’t bribe or force your child to eat certain foods or empty the plate. This might cause a power struggle over food, and your child might come to associate mealtime with anxiety and frustration or become less sensitive to his or her own hunger and fullness cues. Serve small portions to avoid overwhelming your child and give him or her the opportunity to independently ask for more. 16a

2. Stick to the routine

Have regular meal and snack times and sit down for them. If your child doesn’t eat a meal, having a regular snack time is also an opportunity to eat healthy food. Offer milk or 100 percent fruit juice with the food, but water between meals and snacks. Filling up on juice, milk or snacks throughout the day might decrease his or her appetite for meals. There should be at least an hour or two between a snack and a meal to allow time for the child to become hungry again. 16b, 17b

3. Be patient with new foods

Young children may touch or smell new foods, and might even put tiny bits in their mouths and then take them back out again. Your child might need repeated exposure to a new food before he or she takes the first bite. Encourage your child by talking about a food’s colour, shape, aroma and texture — not whether it tastes good. Serve new foods along with your child’s favourite foods. Keep serving your child healthy choices until they become familiar and preferred. 16c

4. Don’t prepare alternatives

Don’t prepare a separate meal for your child if the original meal has been rejected. This gives in to the behaviour and encourages picky eating. Encourage your child to stay at the table until the end of the meal — even if he or she doesn’t eat. 16d, 17a

5. Make it fun

Serve veggies with a favourite dip or sauce. Cut foods into shapes with cookie cutters. Offer breakfast foods for dinner. Serve a variety of brightly coloured foods. Make the experience of trying foods fun by turning it into a game e.g ‘Red day’ where you all wear red and you chose a red fruit or vegetable to try. 16e, 17d

6. Recruit your child’s help

Ask your child to help you select fruits, vegetables and other
healthy foods at the supermarket. Don’t buy anything that
you don’t want your child to eat. At home, encourage your
child to help you rinse veggies, stir batter or set the table. 16f

7. Set a good example

If you eat a variety of healthy foods, your child is more
likely to follow suit. 16g

8. Be creative

Add chopped broccoli or green peppers to spaghetti sauce,
top cereal with fruit slices, or mix grated zucchini and carrots
into casseroles and soups. Hiding fruit and vegetables in
food they already enjoy helps parents to feel that they are
getting their daily servings of fruit and vegetables, but do
remember that ultimately they do need to try them alone so
that they learn to eat them. 16h, 17e

10. Don’t offer dessert as a reward

Withholding dessert sends the message that dessert is the best food, which might only increase your child’s desire for sweets. You might select one or two nights a week as dessert nights, and skip dessert the rest of the week — or redefine dessert as fruit, yogurt or other healthy choices.16j

11. Don’t make a big issue of it

Don’t talk about a child’s eating behaviour in front of them. If a child realises that refusing food gets a lot attention, then especially younger children may refuse food just for the attention they get.17c

Consult your child’s doctor if you’re worried that picky eating is affecting your child’s growth and development. 16k


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