If you have a picky eater, you are not alone. In fact, 30–50 per cent of parents say their toddler is a picky eater. While this behaviour seems to spike around the time children start walking, it wanes for most as they approach ages, 4, 5 and 6.
Tips for parents
The best place to start is by establishing some mealtime rules:
- Consistent times: Schedule three meals and 2–3 snacks for your child each day. Meals and snacks should happen at roughly the same times every day. A meal or snack should happen about every 2–4 hours.
- Consistent place: Your child should have to sit in a chair or booster seat for every meal or snack. Avoid letting your child get up until the meal or snack is over.
- Consistent length: Meals should last 20–30 minutes and snacks should last 10–15 minutes. It can be helpful to set a timer. The meal is over when the timer goes off, not when the child stops eating, cries, throws food, spits, or says that he or child is done. It is OK to start with a shorter time and slowly increase how long the child has to sit. For example, if your child usually sits for only five minutes, have him sit for six minutes. When your child sits nicely for six minutes, increase the requirement to seven minutes, etc.
How can I get my child to try a portion of new food?
Your child should know they are trying a portion of new food and be sure to introduce only a few new foods at a time. The more times children are exposed to a new food, the more they tend to like it. Children need to taste and swallow a portion of food at least 10 times before deciding if it is something they like. Unfortunately, parents often give up after 3–4 times because of mealtime stress. Here are some tips for getting your child to try a new food:
- The try-one-bite rule usually works. Start with a small bite of the new food and increase the size of the bite slowly. When the child is eating a full-size bite, slowly increase the number of bites they need to eat.
- If your child has not tried a new food in a while, the first few new foods you introduce should be something kids typically like (e.g. pudding and hot dogs, not tomatoes and broccoli).
- Mix and/or pair a new food with a favourite food.
- Remember, the more variety of foods they try as a child, the more variety they will enjoy as school-aged kids and as adults.
Guidelines for snacks, milk and juice
- When thinking about snacks, consider that your child should be eating five mini-meals per day as opposed to three meals and two snacks. Use snacks as an opportunity to give your child fruits and vegetables instead of cookies or crackers that have empty calories. Try to incorporate two food groups into each snack.
- Do not let your child eat or drink between meals and snack. Child may have water up to one hour before the next meal or snack. Stick to this rule, even if child ate only a little food at the last meal or snack.
- Before the age of 5, kids will eat until they are full. After age 5, the more you put on their plate, the more they will eat. This is when portion size becomes important. The rule of thumb is a tablespoon for each year of age.
- Always talk to your doctor about the kind and amount of milk that is best for your child. Typically, kids start with whole milk at 12 months of age. Once they reach 24 months, they can switch to lower fat milk. Be sure to give milk near the end of the meal so your child doesn’t fill up on it first and then refuse to eat.
- Parents often offer juice because of the vitamin C it contains and because of kids like its sweetness. If you do give your child juice, be sure to limit it to no more than 4–6 ounces per day. Give it in a cup at specific times instead of in a sippy cup where the child can have it all day. It’s not healthy for your child’s teeth to be awash in the juice’s sugars all day. And, remember, vitamin C comes better from whole fruit than from juice.
As a parent, remember that you are in charge of what is offered at mealtime (you should not be a short-order cook). Your child is then in charge of if they eat and how much they eat. Family mealtime should be a pleasant and sacred time for all. Research studies indicate that families who have mealtimes together produce children who are emotionally better off, who do better in school and who are healthier eaters.
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How do you encourage your kids to eat more or plan their meals, send your thoughts/suggestion to [email protected]