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How To Tackle Little “Picky Eaters”

We want our kids to eat healthy, but if your kid’s picky, you might be happy just to see them eat anything at all. Figuring out how to get kids all the vitamins and nutrition can be a daunting, sanity-depleting job. But it’s a whole lot easier if we follow some basic advice…  

Make Sure They’re Hungry

A parent’s greatest defense against “whiny kid syndrome” is food. No doubt. But we’re gonna have to play around with some alternatives if we want our kids to eat well. Take care of the boredom by finding something you can do together. Or if you’re busy with dinner, have them work an activity they used to love, like puzzles, coloring, or crafts. If they collapse into dramatic hunger theatrics, put out a plate of fresh veggies. If they’re as hungry as they claim, they’ll eat it. And if they eat it, that’s a big victory in the great dinner fight.       

Get Them Involved

Parents are more apt to see dinner prep as a chore rather than a fun activity, but make no mistake — kids have that mastered. Offer kids the chance to get their hands dirty in the kitchen so they can take pride in their work (plus build kitchen skills). Make a point to talk about the vitamins foods have and what they’re good for, or ask them for ideas on how to make it extra-delicious. Or score bonus points by recreating a meal from their favorite movie. When the food is cooked, have them showcase their work by bringing the dish to the table, or asking them to tell the family how they did it. It will give them a whole other look on food.   

Make Dinner Fun

It’s easy for adults to do things out of obligation because there are just so many things we’re obligated to do. Feeding the troops is one of many to-do’s, but make sure it’s more than a task. Turn dinner into a ritual. Make it into something that’s the highlight of everyone’s day. You can use the time to discover and share new jokes or play the same types of games you can play on the road or in the kitchen. Or combine fun and eating by putting an edible surprise in someone’s plate (you have to eat up to find out if it’s yours).  

Slice, Dice, Chip-Chop, And Puree

Back when my daughter was two, she was notorious for picking all the healthy stuff out of her food. Always up for a challenge, I plotted up ways I could prevent it. My grand idea was to chop things up so small that (1) the smaller bits of colorful veggies would seem so intimidating, or (2) picking out all those teeny-tiny veggies bits would take too much work. I can’t tell what did the trick, but I chopped up peppers and broccoli as small as I possibly could — and she ate them! Green smoothies were another trick I had up my sleeve. In the beginning  I had to make a blue green smoothie (courtesy of blueberries), but she quickly developed a love for blended drinks regardless of extreme-greenness.     

Root Out Possible Causes

Much of the time, picky eating is just a phase kids go through. Other times, it’s a symptom of another problem. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can lower appetite out of fear of food upsetting the stomach or causing refluxion of stomach acid. Poor digestion can be another physical cause by causing gas and bellyaches. Low appetite can even have an emotional cause too — like anxiety over going to a new school, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from bullying. Sometimes picky eating is a learned behavior — like if mom doesn’t eat to lose weight, or dad only eats certain foods. It could be a multitude of factors, and it could even involve multiple ones.

Happy eating everyone!

[About the author: Ash Stevens is a mother, writer, and a wannabe shaman. She loves health, gardening, simplicity, culture, chocolate, and sarcasm. If she isn’t writing or talking family and relationships on her blog, then she’s surely playing badminton with the kids. Find her on Twitter or Facebook and make a new friend! Image: David Goehring]

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