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Erin Mendenhall
CENTURY 21 New Millennium

What to Do If Your Child Is a Picky Eater

Good nutrition is essential for children’s health, but countless parents struggle to get their kids to eat right. For many families, mealtime is a frequent source of conflict and power struggles. If your child is a picky eater, you need to understand that it’s not uncommon.

Give Your Child Time
Many kids are reluctant to try unfamiliar foods. Their taste preferences take time to develop—a child may need to see, smell, feel and taste a food several times before deciding that they like it. If your child says they don’t like a food the first time you offer it, don’t force the issue; that will only create stress and frustration for both of you. Accept that your child doesn’t want to eat the food, and then offer it again in a week or two. Introducing it in another dish with a different collection of ingredients may make your child more willing to give it a try.

Don’t Cave In
If your child refuses to eat what you’ve prepared for dinner, don’t make them a separate meal. You can offer a healthy alternative, such as fruit or vegetables, or a nutritious snack later, but don’t interrupt your own meal and go out of your way to cater to your child. That will only reinforce your child’s picky eating habits.

Don’t Bribe Your Child With Dessert
Don’t tell your child that if they eat dinner, dessert will be a reward—that sends the message that dinner is something that needs to be endured to get to the reward. This strategy could cause your child to overindulge at every opportunity.

Set an Example
Children learn by observing others. If family members talk about how much they enjoy a particular food, a child will most likely become curious and want to try it sooner or later. Don’t just talk about the taste of a particular food, but also the smell, the texture, and the way it complements other ingredients in a particular dish.

Get Your Child Involved
Let your child have input when deciding what to make for dinner. Look at recipes together and take your child grocery shopping with you. Have your child help you prepare meals in age-appropriate ways, such as rinsing vegetables or stirring together ingredients. Your child will be more likely to want to eat a meal that he or she was actively involved in preparing.

Be Patient
If your child is a picky eater, don’t despair—tastes and preferences change dramatically over time. Be patient and offer a variety of foods, but don’t force your child to eat anything they don’t want to. Keep mealtimes as relaxed as possible, and your child will be willing to try new foods when he or she feels ready.