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Tuesday, October 6, 2009

How to Avoid Raising Picky Eaters

I have another blog and a reader asked for some tips on how to get her granddaughter to eat better, especially since her parents feed her a steady diet of mac n cheese and chicken nuggets. This is a subject dear to my heart and important to the hearts of American children. I have raised two kids who eat well, aren't picky and have a decent understanding of nutrition for their ages. They also maintain a normal weight for their age. That's not to say that they don't eat or like junk food, especially the teenager. It's just kept to a minimum at our house as much as possible. Could we do better? Certainly, but we do try. That being said, I'll share some tips and my approach to raising healthy eaters.

Good nutrition starts with the parents. If you don't eat well, your children won't and everyone will suffer health consequences. One of my rules is that the adults in the family never express a dislike of any food in front of young children who are very impressionable. If Dad doesn't like vegetables, son won't either. That doesn't mean you have to rave about how wonderful the food is, just keep negative thoughts to yourself.

Second, toddlers are all about control. Don't make an issue of meals. Serve the child a small portion at meal times and don't force him to eat. If junior doesn't eat but comes in a hour later hungry, DON'T give him sweets or junk food. Offer raw vegetables, yogurt or fruit. Try to avoid loading your child with carbs like cereal and crackers. If a child eats 4 green beans and three bites of chicken, that may be enough.

Avoid sugary fruit drinks and never give young children soda. Offer lots of water and milk. If your child fills up on sugar, he or she won't be hungry at meal time.

Make meals colorful and fun. This doesn't mean that you need a clown at mealtimes but try arranging raw vegetables in a face or pretty pattern on the plate instead of heaping salad on the side. Serve a handful of blueberries or strawberries. Use a fun plate, cup or colorful napkins. Have a cowboy dinner with cornbread, beans, bandannas for napkins and drink milk out of a jar or tin cup. Sometimes we have themed dinners such as African or German cooking. Everyone can dress up and children can learn about different cultures. Make an all green dinner on St. Patricks Day, just use food coloring. My kids liked it when we ate by candlelight. Food should be an adventure and fun to try.

Ask your children what they would like you to cook once in awhile. My kids most requested dinner is pesto pasta. Allow them to choose a vegetable or fruit at the store or pick the shape pasta they want.

As children get older, around 4 or 5, insist that they try a bite of everything on their plate. I call it the courtesy bite. After all, they need to understand someone worked to buy and prepare the food. If they don't like it, fine. With time, they probably will learn to like more food. My daughter wouldn't eat pie crust and my son didn't like cantalope for awhile but they eat both just fine now. Also, NEVER fix your child something different just because they won't eat what everyone else is having. Unless your child has a food allergy or is sick, this is a control issue. Just calmly tell them to eat what's on the plate or go hungry. Remember not to let them snack on junk later.

I'll continue this theme on Thursday. I recommend visiting for recipe ideas. It's a great site, easy to navigate and I have found many good recipes. I also have a blog there, thecardiologistswife.