By: Christina mcGeough, mph, rd, cdces
Let’s dive into some strategies to consider when trying to improve your child’s eating behaviors. What works for you and your family may be different, but it can be helpful to first identify and establish your and your child’s expectations at mealtimes. For example:
Children’s roles during meals and snacks are to:
Setting simple and flexible meal schedules and realistic expectations can improve your child’s willingness to accept foods and lead to a more pleasant mealtime experience for everyone. During early childhood children seek independence, crave exploration, and develop likes and dislikes that includes food. Instead of thinking of being a “picky eater” in a negative way, consider reframing it as they are children trying to be independent and have control over their environment. New smells, flavors, and textures of food can be overwhelming.
Offer small portions. In general, portions for young children should be half the amount of those for adults. Smaller portions can make meals seem less intimidating.
Avoid offering too many snacks and drinks. Constantly giving snacks and sweetened beverages like juice, flavored milk, and soda can reduce appetite, promote cavities, and lead to excessive weight gain.
Create colorful plates. Make meals fun by adding colorful combinations which make foods pop and look more appetizing.
Offer foods that have different textures. Pair a crunchy food like carrots with a soft food like mashed potato, and chewy, tender food, like grilled salmon. Sometimes children prefer soft or mushy foods and may be nervous to try chewy or crunchy foods. If they don’t like it at first it doesn’t mean they won’t like it at all. They may need to see the food a few times in a few different ways before they decide to try it.
Keep offering a variety of foods. Even if your child dislikes a food or is unwilling to try foods you offer, it doesn’t mean they will not learn to like them. Children often must try foods more than 10-15 times before they like and/or accept them.
Engage their senses. Help your child explore, with their senses, by discussing how foods look, feel, taste, and smell.
It may take a while to see improvements in your child’s eating behaviors, and you may need to talk to your healthcare team about strategies and activities to try with your child. As a parent, my biggest words of wisdom are to be patient and persistent with establishing healthy habits that work with your family.