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Managing Your Picky Eater

Summer is bursting with fresh strawberries, cherries, blueberries, peaches, tomatoes, summer squashes, colorful peppers – it’s a vibrant, luscious symphony of taste and color!

For many families, this smorgasbord isn’t joyful, but incredibly aggravating. For them, the only kind of “blueberry” their kids will touch are artificially flavored popsicles and the only carrot colored item they eat is boxed macaroni and “cheese”. Sound familiar?

When you’re struggling to get your child to eat – or even taste – fresh produce, lean proteins or any other unprocessed foods, The Center For Advanced Pediatrics has some helpful tips.

First, understand that it might really be distasteful.
Just like children develop motor skills and verbal skills, their taste buds need to mature too. Kids need more calories to grow, so their taste buds are geared to strongly prefer sweeter foods. Also, 1 in 4 people are genetically more sensitive to bitter tastes, so that 1 may just be the picky eater in your family.

Eat as a family.
Eating together as a family, at the table without phones, TV or other screens, is an important part of getting your child to try new foods. When you, your spouse and other family members eat a variety of foods, your picky eater will see eating that food as “normal” and give it a try.

Keep trying.
Children may refuse new tastes and textures as a knee-jerk reaction. Research says it can take five to eleven exposures to a new food for a child to eat it. Ask your child to eat just one green bean today, two the next day and so on to accustom their palate to tastes and textures.

Mix it up.
Serve challenging foods in different ways. Steamed broccoli may be “yucky” but broccoli sautéed with onion, broccoli soup or roasted broccoli may be a hit. Add spinach to an iceberg salad, or order a pizza with artichokes.

Beware of snacks!
Serve fresh fruit with yogurt and raw veggies with sour cream between meals to help your child avoid getting hooked on high salt and high sugar foods.

Accommodate your child – but not much.
Make sure there’s always one thing on the menu that your child will eat and enjoy, so mealtimes are not battles. However, don’t let picky eaters dictate what everyone will eat, or begin making individual meals catered to the tastes of each eater in your family.

Involve your child.
Get a simple cookbook that uses fresh ingredients and let your child select recipes they will enjoy. Take your child to the grocery store to select the ingredients and allow them to cook as much their age and maturity will allow. Your child will be more inclined to eat what she’s selected and help to prepare.

Don’t make other foods a reward.
When you tell your child that finishing all his salad will earn him a bowl of ice cream, you’re sending a very clear message that salad really is “yucky” and ice cream is worth a sacrifice. Instead, explain how eating that spinach salad means growing strong bones so your child can launch that lacrosse ball harder and farther.

Talk to us.
Your child may have a real medical problem with some of the foods she refuses to eat. It could be allergies, digestive issues, a sensory processing disorder or related issues. Call our office at 203-229-2000, ext 3102 or click “Request an appointment” to schedule a nutrition visit and we’ll screen your child for any medical issues. We’ll also help you and your child embrace new flavors, understand the real value of fresh, unprocessed foods and avoid obesity and other eating disorders in the years to come!