Are you the parent or nanny of a child who is a picky eater? Does the child limit his/her choices to chicken nuggets, pizza and French fries? How can you, as a parent or nanny, encourage the child to taste new things and expand their food selections?
It’s easy to get into a food rut and allow young children to limit their food choices. Assuming there are no medical reasons for limiting a child’s diet, there are three things to remember when you try to expand a child’s dietary preferences.
- Remember that we all have food likes and dislikes. Explain to the child that tastes change and just because they didn’t like something when they were younger, doesn’t mean they won’t like it now. Encourage children to taste new things and re-taste things they didn’t like, especially with new recipes.
- Don’t make the child eat an entire serving – just have them take 1 bite. If they don’t like it – say “Thank you for trying it and maybe you’ll like it if we cook it with different flavors or ingredients”.
- Be Patient. If you want children to make different and more nutritional choices, you must proceed slowly; you won’t be successful if you try to change a child’s entire diet overnight. It’s better to select one meal and make small changes over the course of a week or two.
The following steps can help you transition from cereal to a more nutritious breakfast.
A bowl of cold cereal with milk is easy and most children can find a cold cereal they love for breakfast. While children get some nutrients from cereal, there are healthier options.
- First, insert a serving of fruit. If the child is 2to 3 years old, MyPlate.gov recommends a daily intake of 1 cup of fruit. This can be done in several ways with the easiest being adding fruit to their cereal (cut berries or bananas for example). If they are not open to that, try making a smoothie of their favorite fruits or simply add sliced fruit next to their bowl of cereal.
- Second, reduce the portion of cereal and add a protein. MyPlate recommends a 2 to 3-year old get approximately 3 ounces of protein per day. Traditional American proteins like bacon and sausage may not be the best source of morning nutrition. If the child doesn’t like fried or scrambled eggs, try a hard-boiled egg. If that doesn’t work, try a tablespoon of all-natural peanut butter. You can think outside the box – if a child loves lean chicken sandwiches, let them have one on whole-grain bread for breakfast.
- Third, oatmeal or whole-grain bread is a better nutritional choice than most cold cereals. You can change from cold cereal to hot cereal or change from cereal to a whole grain bread with lean meat and cheese.
- Dairy is also an important component of a child’s diet. The child can get some of the recommended 2 ½ cups of diary at breakfast from milk, yogurt or cheeses.
Lunch and dinner offer a lot of opportunities to add new and nutritional items.
- MyPlate recommends a 2 to 3-year old get approximately 1 ½ cups of vegetables per day. Fresh vegetables can be added as sides to either meal. Take children to the grocery and let them pick out the vegetables they want to try. Cut carrots, fresh broccoli, bell peppers, and others are easy to slice and great finger foods. If the child is reluctant, try introducing them with hummus or a yogurt-based dip.
- There are a variety of whole-grain breads available. For dinner, add whole grain rice or pasta. MyPlate recommends a 2 to 3-year old get approximately 4 ounces of grains per day.
- Expanding a child’s preference for proteins may be more of a challenge. If the child is used to fried or processed meats, changing to lean, less processed meats may take time. If the child loves chicken nuggets, try cutting chicken into pieces and baking it without the breading. Introduce the child to cooked beans. Edamame (soybeans) and are a great source of protein. They are soft and children like to peel them from the pods.
- Children can get some of the recommended 2 ½ cups of diary from a glass of milk, a serving of yogurt or natural cheese.
- If a child is set on pizza, choose a cauliflower crust and be picky about the toppings. Natural cheeses are best and choose less processed meats with more vegetables.
Don’t make mealtimes into battle zones. Take your time and introduce each change slowly. If the child doesn’t care for the newly introduced food, move on to the next option. Hopefully, over time, a picky eater will expand their food choices and begin to eat a more balanced and nutritional diet.