If you have kids, you’ve likely experienced a time or two-or maybe everyday-when they refused to eat because they didn’t like what you prepared, wanted something else or weren’t hungry. Here are some things to keep in mind if you have a picky eater at home.
Remember: Small Person, Small Appetite
If your child is refusing to eat at specific times, recognize that they may actually not be hungry. Because children grow so rapidly and plateau so suddenly during this developmental stage, their appetite is likely to change. Offer them small healthy snacks throughout the day during periods when they don’t seem hungry. Chances are, they can’t handle a big meal three times a day.
Be Patient When They’re Trying New Foods
Kids are always learning and everything is new to them. This means textures, temperatures and flavors might take some getting used to. Let them experiment. Many times, kids will put new foods into their mouths and then take them back out. This isn’t necessarily a sign they dislike it. Sometimes, it’s just culinary exploration. Keep giving them new foods over and over until they’re familiar to them.
Let Them Help You
There’s little that excites children more than helping mom and dad. If you have a picky eater on your hands, a way to combat this is to let them help you in the kitchen. Encourage them to help you pick food out at the grocery store. When you’re preparing dinner, have your little one stir, pour or measure. Let them help you cook and they’ll likely be more eager to eat their own creation.
Set Aside Time for Dinner, and Don’t Make Special Meals
For so many families, dinner is a special time. It’s when you get to turn the outside world off for a minute and check in with each other to learn about the day. Make sure your picky eater is part of this time. Minimize distractions by turning off the television and electronics and have them sit at the table for the duration of the meal, even if they choose not to eat. If they decide they don’t want what you made, don’t make them individual meals as this could negate your efforts to get them to try new foods. Continue to offer them healthy choices during meal times until they decide to eat.
Don’t Treat Dessert as a Reward
When you treat dessert as a reward, it teaches your child that dessert is the “best” part of the meal, which could reinforce their desire for sweet foods. To avoid this, rethink dessert. Instead of ice cream, serve yogurt with fruit. Instead of cake, serve smoothies.
When in Doubt, Write it Down
If you’re worried your little one isn’t eating enough, talk to your physician. Track what your child is eating each day. It’s likely more than you think. If for some reason you believe a temporary hunger strike is affecting their growth or development, bring your list of what they’ve been eating (and how often) to your physician and let them check your child out.
Dr. Jessica Lanerie is a pediatrician at Kelsey-Seybold’s new Sienna Plantation Clinic. After receiving her medical degree from Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Medicine in 2013, Dr. Lanerie completed a residency in Pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in 2016. Her clinical interests include weight management, asthma and eczema.