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Time magazine ran a story called “Rethinking First Foods.”  It was a great article on the importance of feeding your baby or child healthy food in the first two years of their life. It also had some frightening statistics from doctors about child obesity.

When it comes to developing your child’s eating habits, one of the points the article made was that parents tend to feed their babies or toddlers “kid food” – pizza, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, chips, fries, etc and it is NOT healthy.  It can be easy to open up a bag of baby carrots, as it is to open a bag of chips – so why do parents take this route of “kid food”?  Most parents that I know say that their child is a “picky eater” and that it is the only food a child will eat.

What most parents don’t recognize is that all little kids or toddlers are picky eaters. It’s totally normal and expected in any child’s developmental stages. According to studies, this behavior has little to do with the taste of the actual food; it is more about wanting control of the situation. Most toddlers learn early that eating is very easy to control and it is will get a response out of you, a.k.a you, the parent. The biggest challenge for parents is to NOT give into this behavior, and DON’T fall into the trap of offering bland, unhealthy foods as a replacement for flavorful, healthy foods.

If you’re concerned that picky eating is compromising your child’s growth and development or if certain foods make your child ill, consult your child’s doctor. In the meantime, remember that your any child’s eating habits will not likely change overnight — but the small steps you take each day, can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.

Here are some TIPS to make it easier on you and healthier for your child:

Start early
Children form habits that make them picky eaters. Habits are hard to break. At the first signs of being a picky eater, explain to your child that it is not healthy to eat the same foods all the time and serve a good variety of foods at meals (it is good if you can feed your child what you are eating at mealtime). Encourage your little ones to taste new foods and try to explain the new food choices as “special meals” or “special treats.”

Recruit your child’s help
Children are more likely to eat something that they have helped make. Try to involved your children when prepping meals. As an alternative, you can also take them shopping at the grocery story and make it a teaching lesson on how to find “good” food. When you involved your kids in making decisions, it reinforces that you care about their opinion and want to make things that they like. For example, never ask “Do you want broccoli for dinner?” offer choices like “Do you want broccoli or cauliflower for dinner?” Providing choices makes your child feel like they are the ones in control.

Make it fun
Serve broccoli and other veggies with a favorite dip or sauce. Cut foods into various shapes with cookie cutters. Offer breakfast foods for dinner.

Don’t offer dessert as a reward
Withholding dessert sends the message that dessert is the best food, which may only increase your child’s desire for sweets. You might select one or two nights a week as dessert nights, and skip dessert the rest of the week — or redefine dessert as fruit, yogurt or other healthy choices.

Be Realistic and Set goals
Be realistic about setting goals. It is not realistic to try to force your child to eat everything you are serving that is new. Instead, ask him or her to take one bite of the new food and work your way up from there.

Be consistent, firm, and don’t give up
Use the same tactics at each and every meal. Put new foods on your child’s plate first. Encourage your child and DON’T give in to stubbornness. A good tactic is to say, “Look, Mommy (or Daddy) will eat it too with you!”

Don’t rush meals
Most kids are slow eaters, and this is a good habit to encourage (plus it is better for digestion). Offer your child plenty of time to eat a meal.

Praise
Even if it is just a tiny nibble, praise your child. For a picky eater – this little bite of food is a big deal. Ask them if they thought it was tasty. If the say “no,” tell them it may take a few bites to notice the yummy flavor. Don’t let them shutdown the thought that this food may actually taste good someday.

Be a good role model
This is KEY.  It is plain and simple. You cannot expect to raise children that eat a good variety of healthy foods if you do not. This fact goes for all adults who sit at the table with your children. Your child learns from watching and mimicking you. You may have to venture out of your own comfort zone of eating and try new foods yourself.

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