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Nutrition Care of Rochester Dietitian Nutritionist

Specializing in the health of women and children.
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Everything I have learned about childhood nutrition and how to feed them, I practiced with my own two kids. Before I had children I knew how I wanted to raise them in regards to food and mealtimes. Our kids really eat great and I pride myself in that. Our 2 year old never turns a food down and our 3 1/2 year old has become very independent with his food choices. Some days he is pretty temperamental but for the most part he is good!  All I can say to other parents is that it is so much easier to follow these rules to avoid picky eating than it is to reverse it!

Rule #1: No TV or toys during mealtimes. This distracts the child so they either stop eating or they don't stop eating and don't listen to their hunger cues and regulating their food intake.

Rule #2: No bribes.Your child is not a pet, they don't deserve a treat for doing a good job on taking a bite of a new food or finishing all of their food.

Rule #3: Let your child feed himself. This will allow them to touch, smear, drop, and eat their food until they decide they've had enough. It is all part of the development process and teaches them to get to know their food.

Rule #4: Everyone remains seated at the table until dinner is over for everyone. This is just good manners. It is never too early to teach your child how to behave properly during dinner. Besides, if any toddler had the option of playing over eating, I'm sure they will choose playing. Help them focus by setting this rule. They will also be able to watch you eat and they will learn from that.

Rule #5: Don't become a short order cook. That only validates them when they say they don't eat a food and you follow up by agreeing to that and making them something else. This will certainly be the beginning of the end if you give in to them. They won't starve if they don't eat dinner one night.

Rule #6: Implement a take it or leave it policy. Imagine dinner is on the table and you have a mouthy toddler pouting and yelling over what you made for dinner. Just tell them that is what you are having, they can take it or leave it. If they say leave it, so be it. The plate is still there and if you are following Rule #4 they may even start eating anyway because they are watching everyone else enjoy the food.

Rule #7: Don't rush your child. Children can take a long time to eat and it can be hard waiting for them to finish. But allowing them to take their time encourages healthy eating habits.

Rule #8: Offer choices. Have a couple of veggie options on the dinner table, even if it is raw carrots and steamed carrots. If they say they don't like the cooked carrots you can rebuttle with "that's okay, there are also raw carrots on the table for you if you would rather have something crunchy".

Rule #9: Don't force them to eat. Ever. The dinner table should be a happy place. A place where they find joy, comfort, and love. Maybe you have a child that will listen if you ask them to take a no thank you bite and you can implement that rule. If they won't take just one bite, that's where it's helpful to have a variety of options on the table for them. Our job as parents is to provide the nutritious food but it is their job to decide what they want to eat, if they want to eat, and how much they want to eat.

Rule #10: Don't put too much emphasis on the food and eating, that includes negative comments or too much praise. Some children won't like any attention given to them when it comes to the food that they are or aren't eating. It's a fine balance you have to learn to walk. You care so deeply but you have to let them lead the way.

Rule #11: Limit snacking. If you want them to eat good meals, they don't need to eat food that doesn't have any nutritional value like puffs or Goldfish crackers. If your child is hungry in between meals, offer REAL food. Fruits, veggies, nuts, and cheese. Giving your children snacks encourages grazing which can lead to overweight and obesity. It can teach eating out of boredom as well. It can teach them that if they are feeling anxious or upset, then they need to eat to feel better because every time they fuss when you are out in public you happen to give them a snack to keep them quiet. It's basically all of the habits most adults wish they could break, so give your child a good start by not encouraging these habits.

Rule #12: Eat your vegetables BEFORE dinner. If you are having a difficult time getting your kid to eat vegetables, then give this a try. It has proven to work in our household EVERY SINGLE TIME. Whatever veggie you are making for dinner, prep it first and put it in a bowl in the living room while they are playing and watch them devour it. Put it on their plate at dinner so they see where it belongs. They might not even want to eat it but it's okay because they already did!

Rule #13: Let your child plate their own food. Encourage them to take an appropriate amount. This might take some practice. When we first started, our son would just fill his plate with food and I would actually believe he might eat the whole thing. Now he is used to plating for himself and he will start small and ask for seconds if he is still hungry. Our two year old also plates her own food but we do it hand over hand (she doesn't have great aim).

Rule #14: Give your kids jobs surrounding the meal. Whether it is to help plan the meal, shop, gather ingredients, stir something, set the table, fold the napkins, or clean up. This gets them involved, gives them ownership, a sense of accomplishment, and the value of the meal suddenly increases and so does their food intake.

Rule #15: Don't have any junk food in the house. My daughter would live on cake if I let her. If I had cake on the counter and she saw it, she would certainly fight for it and I would have to assert myself and say no (because I am sure it would probably be cake for breakfast that she wants). Saying no is hard! But you don't want to give in, you can't always give in. Every once in a while it's okay but if that junk food is always there and you are always giving in, you aren't teaching them self control. Food does not equal love. Saying no doesn't mean you don't love your child any less and they certainly don't think that.

Rule #16: Be a role model. Eat well, if you are making them eat steamed veggies and you have fried veggies, they will want to eat what you have. Don't let the adults in the house say anything negative about the food. If you make cauliflower for dinner and your husband walks in and starts making negative comments about the smell and the taste, your young impressionable child will want to agree with the person they look up to, even if they liked the food previously.

Rule #17: Try food more than once. Your one year old is not picky. Just because you gave them peas one day and they made a face and spit it out doesn't mean it should be taken off the menu for good. It can take 12-15 tries before they realize that it's okay to eat. Sometimes it doesn't even make it into their mouth, it'll just sit on the plate but that's okay! It is becoming a normal thing that they see and eventually it will end up in their mouth! You can also try a different texture, if you are giving them mashed peas, maybe they would rather have the whole pea.

Rule #18: Make associations. Studies show that if you tell a child why a food is good for them, they will be more likely to eat it and the association will always stick with them. We are curious humans. If someone tells you to eat your carrots you might not do it, but if they say "did you know that carrots are good for your eyes?" that might strike an interest with them.

Rule #19: Get creative. My kids aren't fans of mashed or baked sweet potato but they love sweet potato chips and sweet potato fries. They all have an equal turn in our menu.

Rule #20: Don't be a hero. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has a dinner that is a complete Pinterest fail. If it doesn't taste good to all of us, then the short order cook comes out...within reason.

Those are the rules that we live by and those are the rules that encouraged our children to be such good eaters. I hope that you can take some of these tips to prevent picky eating and to make mealtimes an enjoyable experience for all. It might be tough sometimes, but it is certainly worth it. We need to teach our kids how to act like decent human beings that have manners, why not start with the table while everyone is together and the kids have your full undivided attention? Happy Eating Everyone!


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