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Picky Eaters

Moms with children who refuse to eat anything but macaroni should not feel alone. Toddlers are often finicky eaters, according to pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson. She says almost every child goes through some sort of picky eating stage.

Top 5 Tips to Transform Picky Eaters into Foodies

  1. Order up:
    Announce that "ordering" dinner each night is going to end, and that the family (or at least the kids) will begin eating whatever the adults select each night. Set a date in the near future for this to occur. Mark it on the calendar with the kids. Count down each night.
  2. Get feedback:
    Ask the kids to come up with a list of things they like to eat for dinner. Write these items down on pieces of paper, with simple pictures if you like.
  3. Teach balance:
    Inform kids that each dinner needs to include a balanced selection of elements. Color can often be a useful category, e.g., something off-white (some form of healthy protein), something green (a vegetable), something yellow or red (a fruit or sauce). Or you can go deeper and use groupings like protein, grain, fruits, and vegetables. Insist the kids come up with a few items in each of these categories. Add some yourself if they don't.
  4. Make a menu:
    Using these elements as a guide, create some sample menus for the first week of the new protocol. If you want to offer the kids choices, do so within the context of balance, e.g., "We need to have a vegetable for Wednesday. Do you want broccoli or peas?" Do not give them additional control. Also, don't be afraid of repeating things: kids love consistency, and balanced repetition is much better than having salad for dinner one night, and ice cream the next.
  5. Set a schedule:
    Insist that dinner is the one and only time for consuming this meal. This does not mean you need to retreat into old-school tactics like "You're going to sit here until that plate is clean."

Unless the child is showing signs of malnutrition -- dizziness, diarrhea, extreme weight loss -- Brett Berk, M.S. Ed., guarantees that they're not dangerously hungry, and they're definitely not going to starve themselves to death. Set the protocol, get them used to it, and discontinue all other nagging.


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What Moms Can Do about Picky Eaters

A common complaint from parents is that young children will only eat yellow foods: breads, pasta, cereals, and other starches, according to pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson. Some children are willing to eat dairy and fruit in addition. This may still mean getting them to eat protein is a problem.

For many children, Dr. Natterson explains, eating limited foods is a control strategy. Parents might get angry when their children don't eat the vegetables on their plates, which provides attention to the behavior. The first step is to stop acting like you care what your child eats.

It's also important to ritualize meal times. Dr. Natterson says most parents of picky eaters are willing to feed their kids any time at any place. Meals should only occur at the table.

Dr. Natterson says, "Teach your child to sit for meals, even if initially that's only for 5 or 10 minutes. And there should be more than one color on the plate. You could serve only 5 peas, but you are making the point that green (and red, and orange, and so on) is part of the meal, too. This reinforces the point that balanced meals have a variety of colors, and it creates an expectation that this is how your family eats."

These strategies may take time to work. One thing moms can do right now is to hide nutrition in the foods their kids will eat. Stuff vegetables or cheese into ravioli. Blend vegetables into pasta sauce. Try hiding zucchini pieces in pancakes.

Most children will get less finicky about food as they get older. According to Dr. Natterson, the palate broadens around age 5. Then kids will be more open to trying new foods.

If the child remains an extremely picky eater, Dr. Natterson says parents may need to consider a multi-vitamin.

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Related Momlogic Stories on Picky Eaters

  1. Top Toddler (1-3 years) Questions
  2. Your Kid CAN Be a Foodie
  3. Mom and Kid's Food Fight

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