I got a great question this week from a reader who prefers to remain anonymous: “Do you have advice for a picky eater? My four year old plain refuses to eat fruits or vegetables. She won’t even try them; which is part of the problem she won’t try new food. Often we are too exhausted ourselves to fight with her; but realize this is important. We’ve tried making it exciting, we’ve tried tough love no food till you eat an orange, we’ve tried bribing… nothing is working.
How can we get our child to eat her fruits and vegetables?”
As a dietitian who formerly counseled patients, including parents, questions on picky eaters came up fairly often. Plenty of children avoid different foods for different reasons: look, smell, texture, and of course, taste.
Have you ever heard that children may need to be offered a new food 15 or more times? It’s true. Just because you offer a new food and your child refuses to try it, doesn’t mean they will never eat it.
Here are a few tips on feeding picky eaters, specifically vegetables and fruit:
1. Try taking your child grocery shopping and let them choose a new vegetable or fruit to try.
2. At home, let your child help prepare the vegetable or fruit for a meal or snack.
3. Let your child decide whether the vegetable or fruit will be eaten cooked or raw, whether it will be cut up or left whole or whether to add something to it, i.e. seasonings, sugar, margarine. If they do not like it one way, be sure to try it another way another time.
4. Include new foods alongside family favorites at a meal.
5. Include vegetables in favorite dishes such as sauces, soups, stews, casseroles and omelets.
6. Include fruits in favorite dishes such as salads, cereals, pancakes and smoothies.
7. If able to do so, try growing your own vegetables and fruit. Let your child pick which ones you try growing first.
One key asset as a parent is…patience. This may not be an easy, or short, process. Children will be more likely to try and eat new foods when there is no pressure to do so. Unfortunately, using bribes, punishments, rewards or tricks do not usually work, and may even cause children to have negative feelings towards foods and eating.
Rules to live by at the family table (aka the Feeding Relationship):
• Parents and caregivers decide what, when and where food and drinks are offered.
• Children decide how much and whether to eat.
If you have any nutrition topics you would like me to write about or have a question you would like answered, email me at [email protected]. I would really like to hear from you!