As an 8-month-old, your child ate mashed peas and carrots by the mouthful. But now that she's a toddler, she's staging a vegetable strike -- and would happily eat grilled cheese at every meal. How did mealtime go from a cute mess to an epic battle?
"Pickiness usually starts around 18 months and can last well into the school years," says Jennifer Shu, M.D., a Parents advisor and coauthor of Food Fights. "It's a time when kids tend to form their own likes and especially dislikes."
The best way to expand your child's palate? "Get her involved in meal decisions -- at the market, in the kitchen, at the dinner table," says Amy Hendel, author of Fat Families, Thin Families. You can also be more playful with your food prep, hide veggies in foods she likes, and more. Since there are many types of pickiness, you'll need to figure out what works for your child. The key: Keep trying.
Don't label him "picky." This is waving the white flag, and it reinforces his stubborn, attention-getting behavior.
Give your child choices. Asking "Would you like raw or cooked carrots?" makes him feel more invested in the meal.
Avoid substitutions. Serving your child something else will make her hold out longer next time to get what she wants.
Make this deal with your child. He must take one bite, but after that he may say, "No, thank you" to more.
Steer clear of bribes. If you offer chips or a sweet for trying a food, your child will expect a reward every time.
Go the stealth route. Add pureed veggies to spaghetti sauce your child likes. Then let her know she's eaten them and "survived." Gradually make the puree chunkier.
Practice what you preach. You've got to set a good eating example. After all, you can't snack on corn chips and expect your child to munch on baby carrots.
Treat "no" as a temporary answer. "It may take 15 times before she'll try a food and maybe even like it," says Dr. Shu.
Fruit Parfait Spoon: layers of fat-free yogurt, fruit, and crushed cereal into a nonbreakable ice-cream dish.
Blind Taste Test: Cut up veggies, blindfold your child, and have him taste them. See if he can guess what each one is
Smoothie: Mix fruit with juice or fat-free yogurt or milk, Your kid will get a kick out of watching the color change.
Quickie Pizza: Let your child put tomato sauce and shredded cheese on a tortilla. Add veggies. Then toast and serve.
Extraordinary Eggs: Lay cookie cutters on a frying pan, fill with egg mixture, then sprinkle in veggies with your child.
Homemade Fruit Pops: Pour juice into ice-pop trays. Drop in chopped-up berries and oranges. Add a stick, then freeze.
Veggie Tic-Tac-Toe: Play this three-across game on a paper plate (so you can draw the grid) with cut-up veggies. Then munch away.
Waffle Face: Have your child create a silly face (or pattern) with strawberry or banana slices. It works with pancakes too.
Pepper Bowl: Fill a hollowed bell pepper with chicken salad or hummus. Slice up some carrot sticks for dipping.
Frozen Fruit: Icy grapes and blueberries are more fun than fresh ones because they seem like Popsicles, not fruit.
The Scenario: She eats only white foods, such as bread and pasta.The Advice: Add some color to the mix. Stir a little pureed spinach into your child's bowl of mac 'n' cheese and say, "We're making it green today. It's like mixing paint." Getting her over the color hump may make her more open-minded about trying other foods in the future.
The Scenario: He wants food prepared only one way, like chicken in nugget form or potatoes as fries.The Advice: "Adjust how you prepare foods to make them healthier," says Dr. Shu. Cut broiled chicken into a chunk and say, "This is a different type of chicken nugget. Try it." Or switch from regular to baked fries and then transition to baked potatoes.
The Scenario: Your child refuses to eat an entire food group, like fruit.The Advice: Take inspiration from foods your child likes. If he eats Froot Loops, slice up oranges, blueberries, or strawberries, and add plain yogurt to mimic the colorful bowl of cereal. Instead of setting out his favorite pretzel rods, offer carrot sticks along with a bowl of salsa or ranch dressing.
Originally published in the February 2010 issue of Parents magazine.
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