Moving From Picky To Plesant: Tips For Helping Cautious Eaters

If child’s eating habits are a source of concern, you're not alone. Many parents are distressed by what their children eat — or don't eat. When we asked parents what information they wanted on this web site, “how to handle picky eaters” was near the top of the list.   Try some of these ideas.
1.    Stay calm. If your child senses that you're unhappy with his or her eating habits, it may become a battle of wills. React as little as possible when children reject a food.
2.    Stick to the routine. One of the most important aspects of healthy eating is having some kind of routine.  Eating breakfast, lunch and dinner helps the whole family eat better.
3.    Keep an eye on the clock. No sweet drinks or snacks for at least one hour before meals. If kids come to the table hungry, they may be more motivated to eat. 
4.    Limit sodas and other sugary drinks.  If children fill up on soft drinks, it may reduce their appetite healthier snacks and meals.
5.    Recruit your child's help. Ask your child to check out what’s on sale at the grocery and contribute to the grocery list.  Encourage your child to help make breakfast, pack lunches and pitch in for dinner (Kids Cook).  Encourage your children to eat a wide variety of foods by letting them pick out a new fruit, vegetable, or grain at the grocery store. Tell them it’s a new game called “Adventure Eating” and make it a weekly event.  If they picked it, they’ll be more likely to eat it.
6.    Set a good example. If you enjoy a variety of healthy foods on a regular basis, your child is more likely to as well.
7.    Keep it separate. If your child isn't a fan of various ingredients mixed together, separate the food. Place sandwich fixings outside the bread, or serve the ingredients of a salad, casserole or stir-fry separately.
8.    Don't offer sweets as a reward. Withholding dessert sends the message that dessert is the best food, which can increase your child's desire for sweets. You might pick one or two nights a week as dessert nights and skip dessert the rest of the week. Or redefine dessert as fruit, yogurt or other healthy choices.
9.    Expect some food preferences. Everyone has food preferences. Don't expect your child to like everything. As kids mature, they often become less selective about food.
10.    Let them eat at other people’s houses.  For some reason children will sometimes eat foods they would never touch at home when they are in other situations.
11.    No bad mouthing the food. Teach your children to be polite and simply say “No thank you,” if they don’t like a certain food. Allowing them to continually criticize a food just reinforces the notion in their minds. It also doesn’t help family relationships!
12.    Don’t label your kids by their eating habits.  Current research shows that the best attitude for parents to adopt is one of confidence that children can learn to eat well. Instead of  calling your child “picky”, which is often seen as negative, use words like “selective”, “sensitive” or “cautious” when referring to his approach to food or don’t talk about it much at all.
13.    Don’t allow a selective eater to stop the family from eating healthy foods.  Be sure the rest of the family eats a variety of healthy foods and have confidence that cautious eaters will catch up over time.
14.    Know when to seek help. If your child is energetic and growing, he or she is probably doing fine. Consult your child's doctor and a Registered Dietitian if you're concerned that overly selective eating habits are compromising your child's growth and development, if they seem extra tense about food or some foods seem to make your child sick.  Some children are born with extremely sensitive palates and tasting disliked foods is almost like experiencing physical pain. In some cases children may have a sensory processing disorder or an eating disorder which requires special help.
Adapted from the Mayo Clinic/ Tips for Healthier Lives and Feeding the Kids.

Fear of new foods may be genetic

One We Can! KY mother describes her son’s diet like this, “There’s pasta, pasta and then there’s…pasta.  If he even sees of smells a new food his whole face contorts.”
Fear of new food is called neophobia. Researchers examined the eating habits of over 5000 pairs of twins between 8 and 11 years old and found children’s aversions to trying new foods are mostly inherited.  The message to parents: It’s not your cooking, it’s your genes. The study, led by Dr. Lucy Cooke at the University College London used a standard scale to measure the contribution of genetics and environment to childhood neophobia. According to the report, 78 % is genetic and the other 22 % percent is environmental.

A natural skepticism of new foods is a healthy part of a child’s development, according to  Ellyn Satter, a child nutrition expert whose books, including Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense , have developed a cult following among parents of picky eaters. Being picky about food has kept the human race alive as we selected sweet and safe foods in the natural environment and avoided bitter foods that were often toxic.

Each child has a unique set of likes and dislikes. The only way children discover what they are is by putting food in their mouths and tasting it out over and over again.