How to Deal With a Picky Eater

If fights at the dinner table have become a regular occurrence, don’t sweat it--we’ve all been there. Research shows that about 20% of parents consider their 2 to 5-year-olds to be picky eaters. Luckily, most of them grow out of it. Although it can be frustrating to have your toddler push away a perfectly-prepared meal, there are solutions for dealing with a picky eater.

Next time your little one wages a war over broccoli, remember these five tips:

Lead by example

How can you expect your kids to eat healthy if you don’t set a good example? Encourage kids to “eat their colors” by choosing a new, colorful food each week to incorporate into meals. Bright colored fruits and veggies like heirloom carrots or tomatoes are great options. Show them you’re excited about eating new foods, and have them help you pick out fun, healthy ingredients at the grocery store. Use the insights gained through these experiments to prepare healthy recipes that your toddler will eat, and the whole family will enjoy.

Keep healthy finger foods on-hand

Whether it’s celery sticks or string cheese, have healthy snack options readily available when hunger strikes. If sugary options like candy or cookies aren’t around, your kids will start munching on those strawberries in the fridge. Hummus, ranch dressing, and peanut butter are all yummy dips that can help turn boring fruits and veggies into a fun and delicious snack.

Start small

According to doctors at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center, once you start introducing your picky eater to new foods, it takes on average only six attempts for kids to accept them. Try starting with a single pea, and once your little one eats it, give them a food you know they like. Continually increase the portion of the new food, and phase out the follow-up food over time.

Don’t enforce the “clean plate” rule

Don’t require your picky toddler to finish everything on their plate. Kids know when they’re full, so respect them when they want to stop eating. According to the American Heart Association, overeating is one of the major reasons we consume too many calories.

Incorporate healthy options into their favorite foods

Introduce healthy ingredients into snacks and meals that your kid already likes. Consider swapping chocolate chips for blueberries in your pancake batter or baking zucchini and chocolate chip bread to have as an afternoon snack. It’s important to teach kids that fruits and vegetables don’t have to be stand-alone food options.

A certain level of pickiness is normal, and most children grow out of it over time. Continue to experiment with kid-friendly (and picky eater-approved) recipes, introducing fruits and vegetables in different forms. However, if you think your picky eater’s habits are more extreme than most, they might be indicators of an eating disorder. In this case, be sure to consult his or her pediatrician.

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