Q: How do I get my 2 1/2 year old son to sit down and eat? He refuses to eat sitting down--he eats on the go. And he is a picky picky eater. If it's not fish sticks, chicken nuggets, fries, cereal, Welch's fruit snacks, pop tarts, crackers, chocolate milk, or coke, then he does not want it. Help!!!
A: It’s perfectly age appropriate for your 2-1/2 year old to constantly be on the go, even when it’s time to eat! But at the same time, it sounds like many of the so-called “kid” foods he enjoys most are low in nutrients and high in calories, fat and sugar. Although having a healthful diet loaded with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein foods (like eggs, lean meats and poultry, and legumes [beans and peas]) and low fat dairy won’t make him sit through meals, they will provide him with the key nutrients he needs to grow and develop that perhaps he’s not getting enough of.
In order to encourage your child to consume more healthful foods and beverages, it’s important to have such options available at home to offer at meal and snack times. Try to stock up on a variety of foods in their lowest fat, lowest sugar form, including fruit (fresh berries, pineapple, banana apple, unsweetened applesauce and 100 percent fruit juice); vegetables (you can steam, lightly sauté or puree fresh vegetables to soften their texture or sprinkle some grated parmesan cheese or melt some shredded cheddar cheese on veggies to enhance their taste); whole grains such as whole wheat pasta, oatmeal, and whole grain/high fiber/low sugar cereal; lean protein foods such as canned light tuna, salmon, flank steak, or skinless chicken or turkey breast; beans and peas (and other legumes); and low fat dairy foods like nonfat milk and plain, unsweetened yogurt. You can buy these yourself or take your child to the grocery store to choose some foods himself.
Offer new foods one at a time, and with no pressure. Pair each new food with a familiar food (for example, offer steamed cut up broccoli sprinkled with grated parmesan cheese with fish sticks). Be patient, and be aware that it can take as many as 8 to 20 exposures before your child accepts and enjoys the new food.
If you make it a family rule to eat only in the kitchen or dining room, if you limit distractions such as television, and if you and other family members sit together and help make mealtimes more pleasant and peaceful (no fighting at the table!), your child will likely be motivated to try new things, enhance his nutrient intake, and truly enjoy your family time.
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