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How to Help Picky Eaters and Nurture a Healthy Relationship with Food

Nurturing Healthy Eaters: Making Mealtimes Fun and Overcoming Picky Eating

As parents, we want our children to learn healthy eating habits and enjoy lots of foods. Between busy schedules, picky eaters, and the yumminess of dessert and fast food, this can feel like an uphill battle. Fear not! With a few strategies, you can make nutritious eating a fun, positive experience for the whole family.

Cultivating Healthy Eating Habits

1. Lead by example: Children often mimic their parents' behaviors. When they see you enjoying a variety of foods, they're more likely to follow suit. One easy way to do this is by sitting and eating meals with your children. You don't even need to talk about it, just model it.

2. Involve kids in meal planning and preparation: This gives them a sense of ownership and helps them to be more likely to try new foods.

3. Offer a variety of nutritious options: Expose children to different fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and proteins. The more variety, the better chance they'll find healthy foods they enjoy.

4. Avoid using food as a reward or punishment: This can create unhealthy associations with eating. It's so tempting to give dessert only after they've eaten that certain food, but avoid creating this association.

5. Remember that children have a natural need for safety. Strange food (even if it's not strange to us) can threaten that sense of safety. Look at food through their eyes. What is the texture, smell, how does it change, what color is it, etc.? They have a normal need to feel safe enough to try the food.

Making Mealtimes Fun

1. Create themed dinners: Have a "rainbow night" where all foods are colorful, or a "breakfast for dinner" evening.

2. Play simple mealtime games: Try the "alphabet game" where you name foods starting with each letter.

3. Tell stories or share highlights of your day: Make mealtimes a chance for family bonding.

4. Get creative with food presentation: Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes or arrange food into smiley faces on the plate.

Tips for Picky Eaters

1. Keep trying: It can take up to 15-20 exposures before a child accepts a new food. Don't give up!

2. Offer small portions: A huge serving of an unfamiliar food can be overwhelming. Start small and let them ask for more.

3. Pair new foods with familiar favorites: This can make trying new things less daunting.

4. Avoid pressuring or bribing: This can create negative associations with eating. Instead, gently encourage and praise willingness to try new foods.

5. Be patient: Picky eating is a normal phase for many children. Stay positive and keep offering a variety of healthy options.

6. Consider food chaining: Gradually introduce new foods that are similar to ones your child already likes. For example, if they like french fries, try sweet potato fries next.

7. Let them be "food detectives": Encourage them to describe the color, texture, and smell of new foods before tasting.

8. Explore a food without pressure to eat the food. Children are very curious by nature. We can let that natural curiosity help guide them towards foods as they feel safe enough.

Mandy Foster, a renowned child nutrition expert, offers these additional insights:

1. The "No Thank You Bite": Encourage children to take just one bite of a new food. If they don't like it, they can politely say "No, thank you." This approach respects their preferences while still promoting trying new foods.

2. Deconstructed Meals: Serve components of a meal separately. For instance, instead of a pre-made sandwich, offer bread, cheese, and vegetables separately. This allows children to interact with each food individually.

3. Sensory Exploration: Allow children to touch, smell, and play with new foods before eating. This non-pressure exposure can increase comfort with unfamiliar items.

4. The Power of Dips: Offer healthy dips like hummus, yogurt-based dressings, or nut butters. Many children find dipping fun and it can make new vegetables more appealing.

5. Garden Together: If possible, grow some of your own fruits, herbs, or vegetables. Children are often more willing to try foods they've helped cultivate.

6. The "Eat Your Age" Rule: Encourage children to eat the same number of bites as their age for foods they're hesitant about. This creates a achievable goal that grows with them.

Remember, every child is different, and what works for one may not work for another. The key is to keep mealtimes positive, offer a variety of healthy choices, and be patient. With time and consistency, you can help your children develop a healthy relationship with food that will serve them well throughout their lives.

💫 Check out our podcast with Mandy Foster to learn more about picky eaters and how to help your child cultivate a healthy relationship with food! 💫 ⬇️

By focusing on making healthy eating fun and stress-free, you're not just nourishing your child's body – you're also nurturing their overall relationship with food. Here's to happy, healthy mealtimes!



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