Do you have a picky eater at home? If mealtimes are a struggle, try these tips to help your child develop better eating habits. You can use these tips for a child of any age. It’s never too late to start having a healthier and more enjoyable mealtime.
If you are not the only one who prepares food for your child, make sure all caregivers follow the same tips to get the best results. This includes babysitters, siblings and grandparents!
The PARENT and/or caregiver’s job is to decide:
WHAT food and drinks are served at meals and snacks. Make only one family meal. Do not offer your child other options or their favourite foods if he refuses the family meal. Plan healthy balanced meals using Canada’s Food Guide. WHEN food is served. Offer meals and snacks at the same time every day. Your child will learn when to expect food to be served and it will help her to come to the table feeling hungry. Your child is more likely to try new foods when she is hungry at meal time. WHERE food is served. Children eat better when the family eats at the table together. If you need help planning meals, try our Family-Friendly One Week Sample Meal Plan. An EatRight Ontario Registered Dietitian can also provide you with tips and ideas. Call 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email.
The CHILD’s job is to decide:
IF she is going to eat. Your child will eat if she is hungry. Don’t worry – your child won’t starve herself! If she’s hungry she will eat even if her favourite foods are not in front of her. HOW MUCH she is going to eat. Trust that your child knows when she is hungry or full.
Top 10 tips for picky eaters
1. Plan family meal time. Eat meals at the table as a family. Do not offer food while your child is playing, watching television or walking around.
2. Be a role model. Your child will eat better and be more willing to try new foods if she sees others at the table eating the same foods. Family members, including older brothers and sisters, are important role models for healthy eating.
3. Eat at regular times. Offer three meals and up to three snacks at regular times each day. Offer only water between meals and snacks. This will keep your child hydrated and will also make sure that she doesn’t fill up before meal time. This way she will come to the table hungry.
What if my child won’t eat? If your child refuses to eat at snack or mealtime, offer food only at the next scheduled time. Stick to this rule even when your child refuses dinner and has to wait until breakfast. If children eat less at one meal, they will make up for it and eat more at the next meal.
4. Promote happy meal times. Your child will eat better if she is enjoying mealtime. Children are more likely to have a happy meal time if you don’t pressure them to eat.
5. Avoid distractions. Meals and snacks should be served away from distractions like the television or computer. Mealtime is for eating and interacting with the family. Do not have toys at the table or on your child’s tray. Leave toys, books, television and music for playtime before or after meals.
6. Prepare one meal for the family. Make sure you offer food in the correct texture and size of pieces for your child. Remember it is the parent or caregiver’s job to offer the food and it is your child’s decision whether they will eat or not. Your child will be more willing to try new foods if she knows she will not get her favourite foods when she refuses dinner.
7. Listen to your child. Trust that your child knows when she is hungry and full.
8. Don’t pressure, praise, reward, trick or punish. Children who want to be independent will not eat well if they feel pressure. Allow your child to decide if or how much she will eat from the foods offered. Trust that she will eat if she is hungry.
9. Try, try again. Continue offering new foods even if your child has said no to them before. Offer these foods on different days, at different meals and in different recipes. It can take as many as 10 times for a child to try a food and like it. Don’t give up!
10. Limit meal time. Allow your child a maximum of 30 minutes to eat the meal. After this time put the food away and let your child leave the table. Offer food again at the next scheduled meal or snack time. Extending meal time too long will not make your child more likely to eat and does not create a healthy and happy eating environment. A Registered Dietitian at EatRight Ontario can answer your questions on picky eating, send you handouts or find you extra professional help if you need it. Call 1-877-510-510-2 or send an email.
You may also be interested in:
Picky eating: 10 fun tips to get kids to try new foods
Family-Friendly One-Week Sample Menu Plan
Cooking with Kids
Last Update – April 2, 2018