Help your child develop healthy eating habits to last a lifetime.

Parents are often frustrated by the picky eating habits of their children. Children of all ages (and adults) commonly have a few food dislikes, but the peak time for picky eating is the toddler or preschool years.

Small children dislike foods because they are difficult to chew and are repulsed by foods with a bitter taste. It helps to offer tender meats instead of tough meats, and well-cooked vegetables instead of raw.

The following are some pointers for parents to help their picky eater develop good life long eating habits.

  • Try to prepare a main dish that everyone likes. Avoid any unusual main dish that your child strongly dislikes.
  • If your child refuses to eat the main dish, have the child prepare a bowl of cereal or a simple sandwich for himself. Never become a short-order cook.
  • Respect any strong food dislikes. Don’t serve that food to him when it’s prepared for the family meal.
  • Don’t worry about vegetables, just encourage more fruits. Keep in mind that fruits and vegetables are from the same food group.
  • Don’t allow complaining about food at mealtimes. It’s okay not to eat a certain food, but complaining about it is unacceptable.
  • Ask your child to taste new foods. Your child may eventually acquire a taste for new foods. Don’t rush this adapting to new foods by forcing the child to taste.
  • Don’t use dessert as a reward. Allow one serving of dessert regardless of what he eats. However, if the child didn’t eat an adequate amount of the main course, don’t let him fill up on dessert.
  • Keep mealtimes pleasant. Engage in friendly conversation and talk about fun subjects not related to food.
  • Avoid conversation about eating at any time. Don’t discuss what your child eats in his presence or praise him for appropriate eating. A child should eat to satisfy their appetite, not to please the parent.
  • Consider giving your child a daily vitamin-mineral supplement. This will allow you to relax more about your child’s eating patterns.

As long as the child is not losing weight, parents can relax and trust their child’s appetite to look after his caloric needs. If a child learns during these formative years that eating is a pleasant experience, he will gradually expand the foods he eats. During school years picky eaters will begin to try new foods because of peer pressure. The increased appetite during the adolescent years also increases the willingness to experiment.