Children's nutrition: 10 tips for picky eaters

Children's nutrition doesn't have to be frustrating. Consider these strategies to avoid power struggles and help the picky eater in your family eat a balanced diet.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Is your preschooler refusing to eat anything other than chicken nuggets? Or would your toddler rather play than eat anything at all?

If children's nutrition is a sore topic in your household, you're not alone. Many parents worry about what their children eat — and don't eat. However, most kids get plenty of variety and nutrition in their diets over the course of a week. Until your child's food preferences mature, consider these tips for preventing mealtime battles.

1. Respect your child's appetite — or lack of one

If your child isn't hungry, don't force a meal or snack. Likewise, don't bribe or force your child to eat certain foods or clean his or her plate. This might only ignite — or reinforce — a power struggle over food. In addition, 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.

2. Stick to the routine

Serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day. If you child chooses not to eat a meal, a regular snack time will offer an opportunity to eat nutritious food. You can provide milk or 100 percent juice with the food, but offer water between meals and snacks. Allowing your child to fill up on juice, milk or snacks throughout the day might decrease his or her appetite for meals.

3. Be patient with new foods

Young children often 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 color, shape, aroma and texture — not whether it tastes good. Serve new foods along with your child's favorite foods. Keep serving your child healthy choices until they become familiar and preferred.

4. Don't be a short-order cook

Preparing a separate meal for your child after he or she rejects the original meal might promote picky eating. Encourage your child to stay at the table for the designated mealtime — even if he or she doesn't eat.

5. Make it fun

Serve broccoli and other veggies with a favorite dip or sauce. Cut foods into various shapes with cookie cutters. Offer breakfast foods for dinner. Serve a variety of brightly colored foods.

July 28, 2017 See more In-depth