Food Feuds: Managing Mealtime Meltdowns

Picky eater how to get your kids to eat healthy

They may say “Love is a battlefield,” but any mom of toddlers knows their real battlefield is at the dining table. I have three kids ages five and younger, and mealtimes are always a challenge. My two-year-old is in that phase when she would rather just fling her food at the dog (much to his delight) and I am practically begging her to eat something other than string cheese and fruit snacks.

My five-year-old eats like a champ and my three-year-old is much better than he was last year. He at least will take a bite of something before declaring his dislike. He has some issues processing his senses properly, so my middle kiddo will probably always be somewhat of a picky eater.

When my kids go through a phase where they refuse what’s on their plate – my “worried mother” questions come to mind. Like are they getting enough nutrition or should I force them to eat so they do not develop unhealthy habits?

According to an Ask the Expert by a Banner Children’s pediatric dietitian, Julie Simpson, it is normal for most kids to experience a picky eating phase at some point in their childhood.

She offers some great tips to get kids excited about the next mealtime:

  • Let your child help with the grocery shopping and meal planning, so he/she has input into what’s served.
  • You can also invite your kids to help prepare meals by giving age-appropriate tasks, such as mixing a salad or measuring ingredients.
  • Don’t overwhelm kids with options at mealtime. Give two choices that meet with your approval and let them select one.
  • The environment you create for mealtime can also encourage healthy eating. Eat meals together so you can model healthy behaviors and remove distractions like television during mealtime.
  • Don’t handle discipline at the table; kids are more likely to eat in a relaxed atmosphere.
  • Share positive memories of food, such as holiday gatherings or your childhood experiences.
  • Make the meal fun by using colorful or themed serving ware.
  • Kids love tiny foods, so consider serving baby carrots, mini pancakes, grape tomatoes or baby potatoes as finger foods.
  • Always offer a food at least 10 times over a six-month period before taking a break for six months. Their taste buds might appreciate the food as they get older.

For my toddlers, the magic ingredient has been ketchup or ranch dressing. They are 100 percent more likely to eat their food if they have something to dip it in. If I give my daughter food that would complement ketchup, plus some fruits and veggies, she will usually dip the latter in  ketchup as well. This seems a bit gross to me, but hey, she’s eating fruit so I’m not going to complain!

Overall, I’m learning to continue to try new things and to talk to my doctor if I have concerns about them getting proper nutrition.

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