I was labeled a “picky eater” and in many cases, children move on from some of their earlier self-imposed food limitations. I consumed a mostly vegetarian diet and the mixing of foods was not something I tolerated very well. My sister loved meat and hated fruits and vegetables. My brother ate almost anything as long as he was told that he liked it. Many children, even from the same household, have distinct preferences or avoidances when it comes to food. There is good reason to still work to improve nutritional intake during childhood. Childhood eating behaviors are associated with growth and development. If you are at a loss for how to improve your child’s food intake, how to make the task of improving your child’s food intake less daunting, or if you are just looking for ideas for that adult “picky eater”, here are some basic ideas to get started. Keep in mind that these are ideas and not designed to address individualized medical nutrition therapy needs that you or someone in your home may need as part of their health management.
- Keep trying the same foods. This means that the more a food is introduced as part of mealtime or snacks, the more likely those foods are to become a part of the ongoing food intake. Try the food in the same ways or in new ways but keep trying. Think cooked versus raw or fresh versus blended, or frozen versus canned, or easily identifiable or hidden in with other foods.
- Provide equally nutritious choices. For example, providing equally nutritious choices means that no matter which individual food or meal is selected, you know that your are providing a healthful meal. Think about offering either green beans or broccoli, carrots or red bell peppers, blueberries or purple grapes. The color of produce can really help guide us when making comparisons. While preparing special food items for your “picky eater” is fine on occasion, it should be limited as the result is a reinforcement of self-imposed food restrictions.
- Remember your role. If you are the adult preparing food for your household, part of your job is food purchasing and preparation. Let your child choose among those options that you are going to purchase and prepare. Let children decide what they are going to eat and how much they are going to eat. We are each born with natural self-regulation of appetite which can be complicated and made more complicated by systems that create an unhealthy or unpleasant relationship with food. Depending on the age of your child, consider what additional roles they might play related to food preparation.
And remember to be patient. Changes in eating and having self imposed food restrictions is a normal part of the diet of many children (and adults). Stay tuned for great ideas for promoting a healthy lifestyle throughout life.