How to Motivate a Picky Eater



One of the most frustrating for a parent is having a child who just refuses to eat. There are kids who refuse to eat vegetables, kids who won’t drink milk, kids who only eat one thing for days on end, or kids who eat tiny amounts. Before you pull your hair out and disown your child, take a moment to step back and realize a few things before taking steps to helping your child eat normally.

All parents need to understand that the majority of children go through a phase where they suddenly hate noodles, or refuse to eat anything but oranges for three weeks. This is most common in toddlers; it’s part of the growing up and experimenting with the world phase. Most importantly, don’t overreact, making a big scene about food will contribute to the problem rather than inspire them to eat.

An interesting thing about the way a child’s body works is that they don’t assimilate needed foods the way adults do. It’s an odd thing, but children can get a balanced diet by eating only noodles one day, fruit the next day, and suddenly deciding he only wants eggs the next day. Of course, they will eat other things, but if you’re concerned about your child’s overall diet, look at what he ate over the course of the week and see if there isn’t a strange balance in there, somehow.

Also take a look at what he’s eating in between meals. Juice, especially apple juice, will curb the appetite, making him feel full at meal times. Sweets, pastries, and other snacks will fill him up, meaning he isn’t getting a balanced diet at meal times. Cut out snacks and see if he isn’t hungry enough at meal times to eat just about anything.

However, if your child really won’t eat what you just worked so hard to prepare, you might have to bring out your bag of tricks. Yes, there is a bag of tricks, you can encourage and motivate your picky eater to eat, starting with a positive attitude towards eating and food.

First of all, take a look at the meal time environment. Many children are sensitive to to their surroundings when eating. Try to make meals as tension free as you possibly can. Get the family together to actually sit at the table and enjoy good, fun conversation as you eat. Your youngster might end up eating his fill without even realizing what he was eating! Be careful about talking about losing weight, fatty foods, diets, and how you feel fat in front of your children—not just girls, all children. Especially children in tween/teen age are influenced by your attitude to food, even if they don’t need to worry about weight.

Try sneaking in foods your child doesn’t like in foods they actually do eat. Make foods interesting to your child, they don’t care about fancy recipes, they care about the taste. Sneak in vegetables by grating them into spaghetti sauce and covering it in cheese. Or look for vegetable cake recipes; many kids eat anything if it’s in cake form. Some children like cream soups and will eat a variety of vegetables if they’re blended and they don’t know what they are. Put fruit into pudding or fruit jello—without adding sugar.

Calling anything by cute names can be incentive to eat. Cut bread into cute shapes or serve the food to look like a face, teddy bear, or cat face, complete with carrot stick whiskers. Prepare ‘baby’ corn or carrots. Cover broccoli or cauliflower with cheese and call them baby trees. Fry pancakes into animal or heart shapes, then put fruit on them to complete the look. Let them eat food with a toothpick or a little spoon, just for variety, maybe that will make it fun. Cut carrots, bell peppers, and cucumbers very small and alternate them with peas on toothpicks for a fun way to eat vegetables.

Pay attention to the foods your child doesn’t care for. Is there an alternative that is just as good for them? Some children can’t stand mixed salads, but will eat carrot, celery, and cucumber sticks with a yogurt dip. Be willing to be a bit flexible, especially as they get older; remember, you don’t like all foods all the time, either. If you eliminate the foods they don’t like and offer foods they do enjoy, you’ll eliminate tension and frustration at meal times. Some families have a policy where each child is allowed three items they never have to eat, and it narrows down the ‘special requests’. Especially older children can learn, with time to eat almost everything if they feel they have some control.

Another trick that works for children of all ages is to have some kind of food competition. Such as a special reward to everyone that eats at least 3 bites of everything at the table. Or the child who stays at the table until everyone is done gets desert. If they are at the table, they’re more likely to eat, especially if the environment is one of fun and relaxation.

If your child really won’t eat, can’t seem to keep anything down, or goes for long periods where he’s only eating one thing, you may need to take him in for help. A pediatrician is a good place to start; they can tell you if it’s a physical thing or if your child should maybe see a counselor. Don’t let eating troubles go on for long, the more frustrated you both get, the harder it will be to remedy the situation. Relax, but be aware, some eating disorders can start at a young age and are not always associated with weight loss, but rather with attitudes towards food in general, or the environment they’re in. Some children will ‘punish’ their parents by not eating because they’re upset.

And don’t forget, for most children, being picky about food is something they’ll eventually grow out of—at least to a big extent.

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