How to fix picky eating
Many parents worry about their children’s eating habits. Are they eating enough? Am I providing them with healthy options? What can I do to prevent or reverse picky eating?
Dr. Shalini Ravi, a pediatrician and internal medicine physician board certified in obesity medicine at Aurora Internal Medicine in Racine, Wis., offers tips for parents to help minimize their worries.
“When it comes to kids, there are two main components to healthy eating: start them early, and model good eating habits,” she says.
Because building a healthy relationship with food starts young, Dr. Ravi urges parents to introduce fruits and vegetables to babies as soon as they begin solids.
“Introducing them early on is key. This will help your child learn the importance and ease of incorporating fruits and vegetables into their diet every day,” she says.
Many parents worry their child isn’t eating enough food during meals. But Dr. Ravi explains that sometimes children eat in waves, not taking in very much one day but eating more the next.
“Don’t worry too much about how much your child is eating at a meal as long as they are averaging out in a week’s time and their growth and development is age appropriate as per the pediatrician”, she explains.
Some parents will push their child to keep eating or take one more bite, but this can actually be counterproductive.
“Never force feed your child,” says Dr. Ravi. “Let them self-regulate and rely on their body’s satiety center to tell them when they’re full. And when they tell you they’re full, don’t push. Remember – you decide when and what your child eats. But they need to be deciding how much they eat.”
She reiterates that no matter your child’s age, modeling healthy eating habits is important, including eating the same healthy choices you present your children and refraining from dieting.
“They don’t help long term – and they don’t set a good example for your children. Healthy eating needs to be a lifestyle change, and it needs to be one that is realistic and sustainable,” she says.
And when it comes to parents’ age-old concern – picky eating – Dr. Ravi stresses the importance of not giving in.
“Don’t give your child the unhealthy food they’re requesting. If they’re refusing a certain food, try reintroducing it 3-4 times and in different ways. They may not like something the first or second time you give it to them, but they can change their mind,” she says.
Dr. Ravi offers a final tip for teaching healthy eating habits.
“Involve your children in the process of preparing food. Work together to maintain a vegetable garden. Have them help cook meals. This will encourage them to want to eat the food they’ve helped prepare and make healthy choices.”
About the Author
Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator on the content team at Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.