The Battle of the Picky Eater

We’ve all heard the stories about preschoolers who will only eat foods typically found on restaurant kids’ meal menus. You know, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, French fries, etc. Or those who stick with foods of a single color (such as beige — pasta, potatoes, bread, and come to think of it, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, French fries …). And finally, those who eat such tiny amounts that it’s amazing they still have the strength to run around and play. So what is a concerned parent to do?

First, adjust your expectations. Preschoolers with tiny tummies (about the size of their fist) will likely eat tiny amounts. Don’t expect them to take in super-sized portions. If the child is growing and thriving, the amount is probably just right for him.

Go for quality, not quantity. Make sure that every eating opportunity is a good one. Because many preschoolers don’t eat a ton to begin with, try to get a good variety of nutrients throughout the day, whether it’s at an official meal or during snack time. Choose from the major food groups during snack time by offering yogurt, cheese, applesauce or other fruit, and whole grain breads or cereals instead of stomach-filling carbs with little nutritional value like crackers or cookies.

Expand their horizons. Pair favorite foods with small amounts of other foods that usually aren’t in the menu rotation. Put a little bit of diced carrots inside or alongside a meatloaf, or add some baby food spinach puree to spaghetti sauce. It can take kids about 10 exposures (often more) to a food before they decide it’s not so bad, so be patient — and persistent!

Limit the choices. When faced with three foods at a time, a picky child may eat only one of them. Instead, offer your child one course at a time. If she normally isn’t a big meat eater and you want her to get the protein, consider offering chicken alone at the beginning of the meal before unveiling the more desirable sweet potatoes.

Always make food fun. Have your child help you plant, pick, and prepare meals. Garnish everyday foods with raisins, cherry tomatoes, or curly-cue carrot slices. Use cookie cutters to turn sandwiches, pancakes, and more into appealing shapes.

Get professional help. If you are worried about your child’s diet and/or growth, talk to your pediatrician or a registered dietitian about more ways to deal with a picky or poor eater and the use of a multivitamin supplement, if needed.