One of the most common difficulties with having young children is getting them to eat healthy foods.
To make matters more complicated, there are many factors that can contribute to a childís aversion to foods. However, there are some techniques that may help reduce this tendency and prevent it from being carried into adulthood.
To start, avoid using the words ďpicky eater.Ē
The reason for this is that children are sponges when it comes to information and they tend to internalize labels. If a child hears that he or she is ďpickyĒ then it becomes a part of his or her personality.
Another important ďdonítĒ is projecting your own preferences onto your children. Instead, if there are certain foods that you donít like, simply avoid that food and donít give your preferences attention.
Children mimic their parents so itís important to model healthy eating behaviors, show them what a proper meal looks like and that it is enjoyable. If a food you donít like crosses your plate, nonchalantly push it off to the side and donít eat it, but donít make a big fuss over it.
If your child already dislikes any foods, try to ignore the behavior and donít force them to eat it.
Itís commonplace to try to make children have at least one bite of something they donít want to eat. While itís good to encourage your children to try all different kinds of foods, making them take even one bite will only solidify their dislike for that food. How many times do you hear adults say something like, ďI canít stand ___, my parents used to make me eat it as a kid.Ē? Taking away their control over what they eat isnít going to establish a healthy relationship with food in general, but especially not the specific food.
A great way to help encourage children to eat different foods is to involve them in the meal process. Allow your child to help pick out a few things from the grocery store, teach them what to look for and how to shop.
Tell them how excited you are to try the vegetable or other food they picked out and you canít wait to get home and cook it together.
When doing this, you have created an interest in the food they are going to try and youíve taught them a little bit about picking out produce.
While there isnít a simple solution to getting kids to eat healthy foods, there are a few tools that you can utilize to improve outcomes for the long term. Remember to set a good example and donít be afraid to involve them in meal planning and preparation as much as possible.
Just by doing these few things, you can have a positive influence over your childís eating habits for years to come.
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Lenna Ahlers, RDN, LD, is a dietitian in long term care and a graduate of the University of Idaho Dietetics program.