I am featuring a Guest Blogger and fellow dietitian, Laura Belsito for this Grow with Nutrition Blog. With Halloween around the corner, leading to the excess candies, chocolate bars and chips in the house, I thought it was the perfect time to post Laura’s expertise about strategies to keep your little picky eaters on track.
Picky eaters have become a common concern of parents with toddlers, preschoolers and even adolescents. Trying to get your child to eat different foods (especially fruits and vegetables) may make mealtime stressful and not enjoyable. Don’t worry, there is hope! I have three strategies to help your child expand their taste buds and become more willing to try new foods and even enjoy them.
Involve the kids with meal planning and preparation
- Children are more likely to try new foods if they choose them and are involved in their preparation. Aim for at least three times a week when the kids are helping in the kitchen.
- Explore the produce isle with your child to help increase their exposure to different varieties of fruits and vegetables. Remember, children’s taste preferences are formed by exposure to certain foods, so the more familiar they are with them, the more likely they will eat them.
Making your own pizzas can be a fun activity with the kids. Use whole-wheat tortillas or naan bread as a base, cut up four to five different vegetable toppings and allow your child to choose at least 2 toppings for their own pizza.
Make mealtime “family time” and reduce distractions
- Make mealtime a positive experience! Turn off all electronics so that the family can focus on conversations and the meal experience. Minimize distractions and create a positive environment by sharing stories and discussing everyone’s day. This can help the child feel more relaxed and they will recognize their internal hunger and appetite cues. This will assist in guiding them not to under or overeat.
- Do you have a busy schedule? Aim for at least three family meals without distractions per week. Mealtime guidance needs to come from the parents, and then everyone will eventually learn what it is expected of them and look forward to this fun time!
Send the message that mealtime is an important part of the day to enjoy all the aspects of food. This will help encourage a lifelong healthy relationship with food.
Minimize processed foods for snacks
- With Halloween on our doorstep, most snack foods given out as “treats” are highly processed and contain excess sugar, bad fats and calories. Processed snack foods are convenient but they may not be “healthy choices”. If your kids are filling up on these “treats”, do you think they will be interested in broccoli at mealtime? Probably not!
- What is the solution? Take charge and limit the “treats”. Offer fresh fruits, vegetables and water to drink between meals. Fruits and vegetables make great snacks because they are nutrient dense and easy to take on the go.
Prepare these snacks as soon as you get home from the grocery store. It will make them easier to serve and prevent spoilage. Restock weekly with fresh fruits and vegetables, always preparing the grab and go options ahead of time.
Remember, in order for these strategies to make a difference, it is very important to be consistent when implementing them. Many parents will try (or may have already tried) implementing these strategies but may abandon it after the second, third or even fourth time. Don’t give up and have patience! Your child may need to try a food as many as 20 times before developing a taste for it.
- DiSantis, Hodges, Johnson, Fisher. The role of responsive feeding in overweight in infancy and toddlerhood: a systematic review. Int J Obes. 2011: 35(4):480-92.
- Getting to Yum. (2014). www.gettingtoyum.com.
- Marquis M, Filion Y, Dagenais F. Does eating while watching television influence children’s food-related behaviours? Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research. 2005; 66(1): 12-18.
- The Feeding and Eating Experts ESI. (2014). http://ellynsatterinstitute.org/index.php
- University of Rochester. Why Parent’s Shouldn’t Use Food as a Reward or Punishment. http://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=160&ContentID=32.
This blog was written (with a few edits from Jane) for Grow with Nutrition by Laura Belsito who is a Registered Dietitian with a passion for pediatric nutrition. She completed a Bachelors Degree and a Master’s Degree in Applied Human Nutrition at the University of Guelph. Laura counsels clients via two family health teams with a focus on pediatric nutrition. Laura loves working with children to help them grow to their full potential. Their smiles and positive attitudes motivate Laura to empower both children and their parents with healthy eating strategies.