Feeding Tips for Picky Eaters

Feeding Tips for Picky Eaters

By Alana Holmquist, RD, CD, CSP
Pediatric Dietitian | Clinical Nutrition Specialist

It is important that children develop healthy eating habits early in life. Here are some ways to help your child eat well and to make meal times easier.

What to Expect:

  • After the first year of life, growth slows down, and your child's appetite may change.
  • It's normal for your child to eat more on some days and very little on other days.
  • A child may refuse to eat in order to have some control in his life.
  • A child may be happy to sit at the table for 15 to 20 minutes and no longer.
  • A child may want to eat the same food over and over again.

How can I encourage my child to eat more?

  • Set regular meal and snack times. Avoid feeding your child in between these times, so that they are hungry at meal and snack times. If you want your child to eat dinner at the same time you do, try to time his snack-meals so that they are at least two hours before dinner.
  • Limit juice and milk between meals. Offer water between meals, which will satisfy thirst without spoiling the appetite. Serve drinks at the end of the meal.
  • Respect tiny tummies. Keep portion sizes small. Here's a rule of thumb – or, rather, of hand. A young child's stomach is approximately the size of his fist. A good serving size for a young child is 1/2 slice of bread, 1 oz of meat, or 1/4 cup of fruit or vegetable pieces.
  • Respect changing appetites. Offer seconds on days when your child seems hungrier and take the unfinished plate away on "slower" days. Be patient and avoid conflicts.
  • Make every bite count. Give foods that are high in nutrients, like peanut butter, cheese, chicken, eggs, beans, pasta, vegetables (avocado, broccoli, sweet potatoes), fruit and yogurt, for meals and snacks.
  • Don't be a "short order cook". Serve one meal for everybody with at least one food that you know your child enjoys.
  • Avoid distractions at meal times. Young children easily get distracted from eating. Try to offer a quiet and pleasant environment at meal times. Eat together with your child whenever possible.
  • Make it accessible.  Reserve a low shelf in the refrigerator for a variety of your toddler's favorite (nutritious) foods and drinks. Whenever she wants a snack, open the door for her and let her choose one.
  • Let your child decide. Once you have provided healthy foods, it is up to your child to decide which foods, and how much, he will eat.

Count on Inconsistency and… Relax!

There may be days when meal times are challenging. For young children, what and how much they are willing to eat may vary daily. Don't be surprised if your child eats a heaping plateful of food one day and practically nothing the next, adores carrots on Tuesday and refuses it on Thursday, wants to feed herself at one meal and be totally catered to at another. Remember to relax - you are probably doing better than you think. Meals are a time when both you and your child learn about food and each other. As long as your child is growing and developing normally, a relaxed approach is best. 

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