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. 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.
4. 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.
5. Recruit your child's help
At the grocery store, ask your child to help you select fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. 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.
Sept. 06, 2014
See more In-depth
- Tips for dealing with a picky eater. American Heart Association. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/10-Tips-for-Dealing-With-a-Picky-Eater_UCM_303811_Article.jsp. Accessed July 17, 2014.
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://www.cnpp.usda.gov/DGAs2010-PolicyDocument.htm. Accessed July 17, 2014.
- Picky eating — How to cope. U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/preschoolers/picky-eaters/cope-with.html. Accessed July 17, 2014.
- Help them try new foods. U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/preschoolers/picky-eaters/new-foods.html. Accessed July 17, 2014.
- Make food fun. U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/preschoolers/picky-eaters/make-food-fun.html. Accessed July 17, 2014.
- Cathey M, et al. Picky eating: A toddler's approach to mealtime. Pediatric Nursing. 2004;30:101.
- What's to eat? Healthy foods for hungry children. American Academy of Pediatrics. http://patiented.aap.org/content.aspx?aid=5733. Accessed July 17, 2014.
- Shelov SP, et al. Caring for Your Baby and Young Child: Birth to Age 5. 5th ed. New York, N.Y.: Bantam Books; 2009:305.
- Duryea TK. Dietary recommendations for toddlers, preschool, and school-age children. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed July 16, 2014.
- Holt K, et al. Bright Futures Nutrition. 3rd ed. Elk Grove, Ill.: American Academy of Pediatrics; 2011:68.
- Phrases that help and hinder. U.S. Department of Agriculture. http://www.choosemyplate.gov/preschoolers/picky-eaters/phrases-help-hinder.html. Accessed July 17, 2014.
- Butte NF, et al. Nutrient intakes of US infants, toddlers and preschoolers meet or exceed dietary reference intakes. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2010;110:S27.