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The picky eater…. (I don’t like it!)

September 14, 2010

By Dr. Elizabeth Walenz with Methodist Physicians Clinic

“I don’t like this,” is what my 2-year-old daughter said to me as I placed a bowl in front of her. “It’s pasta,” I argued, “you love pasta.”

“I don’t like this,” she repeated taking each of the rigatoni noodles out of the bowl and lining them up on her placemat.

“Try it. Take two bites; it is just a different shape from spaghetti.” She tentatively took two bites out of a noodle. Surprised, she said, “I do like this. I like pasta.”

Granted, this is not every night at my dinner table, nor is every night a success story. I see many parents in the office with similar struggles–the picky eater.

Kids, at times, are afraid to try new things, as was my daughter when approached with a tube-like pasta instead of the single strands of spaghetti that she was used to. An important thing for us to remember as parents is that we are the models for our kids. Kids learn many of their behaviors, including eating, from us. It is very easy in this day and age to get stuck in a chicken nugget, macaroni and cheese, hot dog rut. Variety and color are key for kids to eat healthy.

Kids and adults need at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. This can be difficult to achieve, especially for those kids who try to avoid anything green. From the very beginning, we should try to make sure each child is getting a little green in their diet. I have the “Sneaky Chef” cookbook and have tried some of the recipes. I like her idea of chopping up the green, especially the iron-rich spinach, and mixing in with meatballs, pizza sauce or meatloaf. For the oranges, she will puree sweet potato and mix in with macaroni and cheese or pizza.

At home, we can cut vegetables and fruits into fun shapes or create faces on the plate out of fun-to- eat, good-for- you food.

Another tip is toget kids involved in the kitchen. I think it is fun to have a pizza party and throw a little broccoli and a protein on a pizza and have the kids get messy helping. It is a lot more fun to eat something that you helped to create.

I advise families to sit down together to enjoy meals. This helps with the modeling that I spoke about earlier. If a child sees his or her mother/father/brother eating the food, he/she is more likely to try it.

Some of my patients will have one of two problems with milk at meals. One toddler group will drink a lot of milk during the day. They will finish a whole cup of milk before dinner has even started. They start out the meal somewhat full and not interested to try the dinner. I recommend if you have a milk-lover, to have them start eating first and once they have eaten a few bites out of everything, they can then have a half glass of milk. The other toddler group transitioned to never like milk. They refuse to drink it. Some suggestions I have for the parents of children in this group would be to start out with chocolate milk or even a milk-shake with some ice cream and make the drink really fun, with a straw or a special cup. Once the child has accepted it, I would gradually decrease the chocolate or the ice cream back to only milk.

In terms of food choices, I will recommend that the chef at home is not a short-order cook but cooks for the whole family. When introducing new foods, make sure that there are readily accepted foods in addition to the new food being introduced. If the favorite is macaroni and cheese, perhaps mix in a protein or a vegetable into the sauce to make it healthier. I also recommend you try and avoid juices and empty calories. I advise to make snacks healthy. Grab a piece of fruit or low-fat string cheese and avoid snacks close to meal time.

These strategies won’t work for everyone, but hopefully, these are a few tips for your picky eater!

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