Blog: Feeding the Picky Eater

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In our modern world where life is frenetic, food choices are made on the run, and children are exposed an inordinate amount of food commercials for unhealthy food, it is no wonder that many mothers face the challenge of the picky eater.

However it is also important to remember that you can have a significant influence on your child eating habits. For toddlers and pre-school children the family environment is the primary influence on the development of food habits. Food attitudes of parents can be strong predictors of food likes and dislikes, so be aware of trying to keep your own eating habit healthy and balanced. Contrary to popular belief young children do not have an innate ability to choose a balanced nutritious diet, they can only choose one when presented with nutritious foods. Parents and adults are responsible for offering various nutritious and developmentally appropriate foods

Striving for a Healthy Diet

When deciding which foods to offer your child, it is important to understand what a healthy balanced diet is. The following guidelines when implemented will help to achieve and maintain a balanced diet within the family environment

  • Include a variety of foods in the family diet. Eating a varied diet will help to ensure an overall better nutrient intake.
  • Encourage your children and family to eat more fresh fruit and vegetables. These foods are packed with vitamins, minerals and fiber.
  • Try to give preference to lean meat, skinless chicken, all fish and low fat cheese, these foods are rich in high quality protein and can be eaten daily.
  • Include at least 2 servings of milk or yoghurt daily
  • Try to include beans and lentils regularly. These foods provide vegetable protein and fiber to the diet.
  • Give preference to whole grain high fiber starchy foods and those that convert to glucose slowly, such as wholegrain cereals, barley, rye, millet, spelt, sweet potatoes, brown rice, boiled baby potatoes, steel cut oatmeal.
  • Use fat in moderation and give preference to unsaturated fats (mono and poly unsaturated fat) found in olive oil, canola oil, avocado, nuts and seeds.
  • Encourage choosing water as the beverage of choice.
  • Use salt sparingly or not at all
  • Use sugar and sugary foods and beverages sparingly and not between meals.

Ways to encourage better eating habits

Now that you have an understanding of the recommended dietary guidelines, here are some tips on how to go about feeding the picky eater:

  • Encourage family meals were the family eats together at the table
  • Discourage eating while watching TV
  • Create a positive calm atmosphere around meals. Do not have unrealistic expectations regarding mealtime manners, and avoid arguments and stress at the table, which can have a negative effect on your child’s appetite.
  • Set sufficient time aside to eat meals, avoiding eating in a rush
  • Do not let “food jags” (irrational food behavior) perturb you, be consistent and retain control over the type of food offered to the child, and set limits on inappropriate eating behaviors. For example a child may reject a previously accepted food, do not assume that because the food was rejected today it will be rejected again tomorrow, offer the food again a few days later.
  • Continue to offer a variety of foods to your child including his/ her favorite ones. And avoid making food substitutions a routine
  • Offer small servings of foods several times a day (4 – 6 times daily)
  • Snacks should be chosen carefully, and should be nutrient dense and should not encourage poor food choices. Wholesome snacks often enjoyed by children include fruit, vegetable sticks, cheese, milk, whole grain crackers, popcorn, dried fruit, yoghurt, dry cereals and peanut butter sandwiches.
  • Be careful of serving food at extreme temperatures and foods with strong odors, as the picky eater will often readily reject these types of foods.
  • Children often like a sense of order with their food and will often not eat foods that touch on a plate, and are also not fond of mixed dishes with unidentifiable foods. To avoid upsets, try to understand that these eating behaviors are a stage in their development and are temporary.
  • Try to avoid serving meals to the child when he/she over tired. A quiet activity or rest before meals may be helpful.
  • Children should also not be given any food or drink within 1 ½ hours before a meal, as even small snacks may result in poor eating.
  • Make sure that your child is not just drinking excess calories in the form of juice and milk, as excessive consumption of these beverages can reduce a child’s appetite for solid foods.

Your role in your child’s relationship with food

Strive to develop a positive feeding relationship between yourself and your child. This implies that parents provide safe nutritious foods at regular meals and snacks and the children then decide how much if any they eat. It is important that you recognize that progress toward attaining and maintaining a balanced diet may seem slow at times, but be consistent you and your child will eventually reap the rewards.

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