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Choosing Meals for Picky Eaters

By Dinah Castro

Many parents of young children find themselves battling, begging and even bribing their children to eat a variety of healthy foods. Children can become picky eaters when they reach a stage in their development at which they want to assert independence. This is the time to encourage your child to make their own decisions, but make sure you are offering them healthy choices — for example, let them choose between broccoli and a crisp green salad. Either choice your child makes is a good one. You may also find it helps to offer small portions and allow them to ask for more once they’ve finished. Or better yet serve your meals “family style” and allow your child to pick from a variety of dishes. Use the “one tablespoon of food per each year of age” rule to gauge if your child has eaten enough.

To avoid battles, don’t force children to clean their plates. Threats and punishments only reinforce the power struggle. Do try to introduce new foods in a neutral manner. Talk about the color, shape and texture, but don’t tell them a new food tastes good. Allow your child to explore. Don’t get upset if your child is “messing around” with their food. It is actually part of his natural development to touch, smell, even put the food in his mouth and take it back out.  Use these awkward moments to teach your child how to properly use their napkin. Present the same food prepared in different ways. A child who refuses steamed carrots may dive into a plate of raw carrot sticks served with a light dip.

Research shows that it can take more than 10 exposures to a new food before a child accepts it. Be patient. Some children need time to outgrow pickiness.

Many parents sneak vegetables and fruit into meals to satisfy their own need to know their picky eater receives adequate nutrition. But this practice fails to teach children how to make healthy food choices. If you are concerned speak to your pediatrician and provide a multivitamin that ensures they get their recommended daily requirements.

Healthy Eating

To help your child develop healthy, lifetime eating patterns, try this:

  1. Start small. Allow your child to take a small portion of the new food along with familiar foods that he enjoys.
  2. Make it fun. Try serving veggies with a favorite dip. Cut solid textured foods into fun shapes with cookie cutters. Snack time, when kids are usually hungry and don’t have the mealtime pressure to eat, is a good opportunity to introduce new foods.
  3. Involve your child. Start at the grocery store by letting her select a new food for the whole family to try. Back home let your child help in the food’s preparation. Kids are more likely to eat what they’ve helped cook, and this is another opportunity for them to show you how “grown up” and independent they are.

Dinah Castro is a family wellness educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Suffolk. She can be reached at 631-727-7850 x. 351 or at


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