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Food fight
Understanding the food ’tude
Should you worry?

‘It tastes like chicken …’
‘It tastes like chicken …’

Try these strategies to help your child eat better.

  • Don’t buy junk food. We’re not saying never give your child a treat, like a cookie or an ice cream cone. But keep the goodies out of the house. The less access your child has to junk food, the less opportunity he or she has to eat it.
  • Be sneaky. Outsmart your picky eater by adding healthy foods to the things he or she already likes—for instance, throwing a handful of blueberries onto pancakes or mixing peas into macaroni and cheese. You might even pureé (and thus disguise) vegetables into spaghetti sauce or soup.
  • Rethink the snacks. Don’t allow free access to food. Schedule snacks at regular times to help improve appetite at mealtimes. When offering snacks, try to incorporate at least two food groups such as a fiber-rich cereal with milk or peanut butter with apples.
  • Make healthy food fun. Use cookie cutters to create fun shapes on whole-wheat sandwiches; skewer grape tomatoes, peas and carrot slices for a veggie stick; and serve cut-up veggies with dip or fruit slices paired with yogurt in parfait glasses.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. It can take up to 15 attempts with a certain food before your child will learn to like it.
  • Involve your child. Take your child food shopping and ask what healthy foods he or she would try. Choose a variety of foods and stage your own taste test. Or, have your child help plan and prepare a meal.
  • Consider a vitamin supplement. It’s hard for a healthy eater to get all the vitamins and nutrients he or she needs from diet alone; a supplement may be more important for a finicky eater.

As many as one in two children are considered picky eaters, and if you live with one, you know how frustrating mealtime can be. There’s the kid who will eat only chicken nuggets morning, noon and night for a week straight. Or the one whose repertoire consists of four menu items: macaroni and cheese, pizza, bagels and hot dogs. Worse yet is the child who barely eats anything at all. Why do so many kids get stuck in a food rut—and what can you do to give them the nutrition they need?

Understanding the food ’tude

Kids become picky eaters for different reasons. Toddlers may be exerting some newfound control and independence. Some kids just have smaller appetites than their peers. Others simply have more finicky tastes. Examine your own relationship with food, too. Kids mimic their parents’ actions and attitudes. If they rarely see you eating fresh fruit, vegetables or a variety of foods, they’re less apt to do so themselves. In fact, one study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that mothers who consumed more fruits and vegetables had daughters who ate more fruits and vegetables and were less picky overall.

Should you worry?

Kids with limited diets may be missing out on key nutrients, like calcium and fiber. And unhealthy diets can lead to high cholesterol and obesity. But don’t lose sleep over a picky eater. As long as your child is growing and developing normally, not over- or underweight and choosing at least some nutritious foods, he or she isn’t likely to suffer any long-term damage from a diet of pizza (try ordering it with a whole-wheat crust and low-fat mozzarella). If your child won’t eat at one mealtime, it’s OK to skip it. Offer a nutritious snack (like low-fat cheese and whole-grain crackers or fresh fruit) a few hours later and try again at the next meal. List all the foods your child does eat over the course of a week. You may find his or her diet is more balanced than you think. If you still have concerns, talk to your pediatrician.