3 Picky Eater Problems and How to Solve Them

So what if your kid eats her cereal without milk or hates every green vegetable? We have easy ways to get around common kid hang-ups.

Here are three healthy ways to please a picky eater.

Monica Buck

She refuses to drink milk.

What's the Big Deal? Milk offers four nutrients—calcium, magnesium, potassium, and vitamin D—that help kids' bodies and bones grow strong. Getting enough now means better bone mass in adulthood. Research from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center found that women who were milk avoiders as kids had 6 percent lower bone-mineral content and twice the risk of fractures as those who drank it during childhood. What's more, preliminary research suggests that drinking milk may help kids maintain a healthy weight.

Work Around It: You can meet your child's calcium needs with other foods and drinks. A 1- to 3-year-old can get her daily calcium allowance with 4 ounces of yogurt plus a slice of reduced-fat cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup of calcium-fortified orange juice. Kids ages 4 to 8 will meet theirs with a bowl of fortified oatmeal plus a piece of part-skim string cheese, 3/4 cup of fortified orange juice, 6 ounces of low-fat yogurt, and a whole-grain English muffin. Yogurt and cheese also contain potassium and magnesium, so those nutrients are covered. Vitamin D, which helps your child's body absorb calcium, is harder to come by because it's found only in a few other foods, such as fish and eggs. So if your child doesn't drink milk, consider giving her a kids' vitamin D supplement of 400 IU daily.

Monica Buck

She loathes practically every vegetable.

What's the Big Deal? Veggies are very low-cal and packed with healthy plant compounds as well as immune-boosting nutrients like vitamins A and C. According to new research from two children's hospitals, preschoolers who ate a diet low in fried foods and rich in dark-green and deep-yellow vegetables such as broccoli, carrots, and sweet potatoes not only had a lower fat mass but also a higher bone mass than those who didn't, possibly because the potassium in them acts as a bone builder.

Work Around It: Focus on the veggies your child does like. Even though it's technically a fruit, the USDA counts tomato salsa and marinara sauce toward your kid's veggie servings. (Toddlers and preschoolers need about 2 cups daily while 5- to 8-year-olds require roughly 2 1/2 to 3.) Potatoes are another well-liked option.

But keep offering all veggies in a no-pressure way. Routinely put them on her plate or serve them family-style at the dinner table, but don't make a big deal if she doesn't eat any. Or set out a veggie appetizer with her favorite dip, like salad dressing, maple syrup, or ketchup. "For a lot of kids, ketchup allows them to expand the variety of foods they'll eat," says Jill Castle, R.D., owner of Pediatric Nutrition of Green Hills, in Nashville. Look for a brand like Simply Heinz Ketchup, which is made with only real, simple ingredients and no high fructose corn syrup. 

And serve these veggies right before dinner, when kids are really hungry. In a new study from Penn State University, 3- to 5-year-olds polished off more carrots when they were served before lunch rather than during the meal. If she's still not budging, pick up the slack with fruit: Spinach is high in vitamin A, but so are dried apricots, cantaloupes, and mangoes. If she won't eat C-rich green beans or broccoli, offer strawberries, citrus fruit, or pineapple. They're all great choices for a snack or dessert.

Mealtime becomes a struggle when your little one has a very discerning palate. Learn how to handle a picky eater and some reasonable guidelines for what you should expect your child to eat.

Monica Buck

He insists his sandwiches be on white bread.

What's the Big Deal? Whole-wheat flour has 25 percent more protein, 78 percent more fiber, and 93 percent more vitamin E than the refined kind used to make white sandwich bread. "The extra fiber helps prevent constipation in kids, and along with the protein will help them stay fuller," says Joanne Slavin, Ph.D., professor of food science and nutrition at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. And the vitamin E? In a study of kids 8 to 13, those who ate whole grains were 54 percent less likely to have asthma -- possibly because whole grains have antioxidants like vitamin E that may prevent airway inflammation.

Work Around It: The government's Dietary Guidelines say only half of your kid's grain servings need to be whole. If he won't relinquish his favorite bread, balance it out with brown rice at dinner or whole-grain cereal for breakfast. "Try to get him used to the taste of whole wheat by making a 'zebra' with one slice of white bread and another of whole wheat," suggests Elisa Zied, R.D., author of Nutrition at Your Fingertips, and mom of two.

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