Eating Behaviors Plus Tips for Picky Eaters: Childhood Nutrition Series

Welcome to Part 2 of the Childhood and Adolescent Nutrition Series! This topic covers the eating behaviors of our kiddos along with some bonus information and tips for those picky eaters. I have 2 of them so I know how it goes!

As simple as it may sound, there is one basic “rule” for feeding your kids healthy choices…..

Lighten Up.

Yeah, it’s that easy!

Or so we wish!

As parents, we have a tendency to become obsessed with the “right” foods for our kids. We know that teaching them healthy habits for anything starts right away when they are toddlers and preschoolers. It is too easy to get caught up in the craziness of it all and become way to strict in our thinking. That can lead to some pretty ugly battles at the dinner table.

The fact is that parental influence on our children’s food choices declines as our kids grow up. They assert their independence and oftentimes rebel against what they were taught. This can be very frustrating for parents!

We need to remember all of the things kids go through as they grow and create social relationships. There may be moments when the best way to get your kid to eat something is to conspire with other parents and put the selected food in your child’s best friend’s lunchbox! “Wow, if Dean eating it then it must be good!”

Starting your preschooler out on the right foot isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to always end in tantrums (from both you and your kid!). Here are a few simple things to consider when you still have that influence on your child’s eating habits:

  • Provide nourishing food; make sure that healthy choices are always available
  • Provide a supportive environment; create the space for progression and development of satisfying eating habits
  • Be a role model; if you are always eating a burger with a soda at dinner, your kids are naturally going to think that’s ok
  • Provide a firm, safe and comfortable dining area; make sure kids can reach their food (this requires you to always watch those little hands, but it is worth it!), make it comfortable and easy to clean up
  • Make the dishes and utensils blunt, but child-sized and easy to use; this makes it much easier on the child – some food preferences in kids stem from the ease with which they can handle the food and also chew it.
  • Make the food simple; serving a one year old a gourmet meal is just not going to do the trick! Picky eaters tend to do better with milder flavors, so keep that in mind
  • Textures are important; experts recommend that you serve something soft, something crisp, and something chewy in the meal whenever possible. Color makes a huge difference as well. Kids are more likely to do better when the plate is full of fun colors.
  • Food should be easy to work with and pliable. Small, rough and easy to hang handle. Toddlers have not yet developed fine motor skills, so the easier it is for them to eat, the better.
  • Keep in mind emotional factors such as fatigue or hunger. We all get “h-angry”, so don’t expect your little one not to be either! Along this line, create a calm space for dinner time
  • Respect strong food dislikes; not everything will be well received – remember to Lighten Up!

  • Kids really are the best judge of their own satiety; this is a hard one for me to wrap my mind around when I see my stepson eating like a little bird. The fact is that he knows better than I do what’s going on in his stomach. It isn’t worth a war to eat more at that stage
  • Here is the final tip, and one I think is the most important, yet the most difficult one to enforce: do NOT use food as a bribe or a reward. This is crucial to your child’s emotional and social development. It is a slippery slope, especially when you are tempted to offer kids treats as an incentive to eat dinner. Remember the association they will attach to that – “If I eat all these vegetables, then I get to have all the ice cream I want!” Danger!!

I hope these tips are helpful for parents of toddlers. You aren’t alone and there are many resources available to help! One that I have found very valuable is the blog of Dr. Orlena Kerek at Snotty Noses ( love the name!!). She is pediatrician with young kids and her advice for picky eaters is very worth checking out. As the stepmom of 2 picky ones, I personally love her book Crunch! Put a Stop to Picky Eating and Teach your Kids to Love Veggies. Click here to learn more. She also has a great video course available as well. Check it out here.

Our next topic will tackle the very real issue of high cholesterol in children and obesity. See you then!

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