Parenting Tips: Turn Picky Eaters Voracious

Has your dinner table become a war zone? Try these tips to help turn the pickiest of eaters into kids with healthy, hearty appetites

Credit: Flickr/c.r.avery

Have kids dig into the whole plate with these strategies for sharpening appetites

Are your kids refusing to eat, picking at their food, claiming special diets or surviving on goldfish crackers and juice boxes? Try these tips for feeding picky eaters

Current wisdom has it that we should serve the food, then let kids (even babies) decide what to eat. But current wisdom doesn’t have to live with the whining from underfed offspring, nor can it allay the suspicion that our kids are being robbed of essential nutrients by their no-vegetable or white-only diets.

Try these tips to help kids build up an appetite for meals – whatever you’re serving.

Feed Less So They Eat More

  • Ban snacks. It can be confusing when we hear kids should graze rather than eat regular meals. But snacks, especially the starchy crackers or sugary raisins we typically feed kids, can fill them up and exacerbate mealtime whining, fussiness, and refusals to eat.
  • Don’t buy juice. Juice is extremely high in sugar and low in fibre. Offer kids fruit instead. And monitor how much milk your kid drinks: he may be full by mealtime.
  • Serve appies. An hour before dinner is when kids typically pull the “I’m starving to death” routine. Put out some carrot and celery sticks (no dip) to fend off the hordes.

Tricks at the Table

  • Be consistent. Have meals on an approximate schedule so kids know when to get tummies ready.
  • Don’t be conned into modifying dishes. It starts out innocently enough: little Taylor hates nuts, so you won’t put any in her salad. Pretty soon you’ve morphed into a short order cook, dressing each plate for likes and dislikes. Try this instead: what you serve is what they get, period.
  • Refuse to pander. I’ve heard of kids who eat nothing but Kraft Dinner. Guess what? Somebody’s making and serving it. Feel free to serve spicy food (within reason), cuisine from unfamiliar cultures, new dishes, brown rice, or raw fish. Children may prefer chicken nuggets, but that’s no reason they should live by them alone. (For healthy, delicious recipes, try Mothering magazine online).
  • Give dawdlers extra time. If you wolf your food, you may be clearing away before your pokey toddler can get through her bowl. (Or let her clear when kids do chores).

Be Prepared for Some Short-Term Pain

When kids say they’re done and the plate’s still full, remind them that they choose how much to eat – but you choose whether to allow snacks later. Saying “okay, but that’s it until bedtime, right?” can concentrate a child’s appetite remarkably. Expect to be tested at first, and to put up with a few whiny sessions before kids realize you’re serious.

Get more tips on getting kids to eat healthy.