Outwit Your Picky Eater

Our advice will get him from "I don't want that" to "more, please!"

8 Tummy-Pleasing Tips

There's plenty you can do to win the food fights at your table. Try out these eight expert tips to make mealtimes the fulfilling -- albeit messy -- experiences they should be.

  1. Offer a variety of flavors and textures, starting when he's around 9 months. Introduce him to spices and different preparation methods, such as poaching in broth or roasting.
  2. Eat a varied diet yourself. If you toddler sees you eating a turkey sandwich one day at lunch and vegetable soup the next, she'll want to mimic Mommy.
  3. Offer new or less-favored foods first. If your carb-lover fills up on pasta, he won't try the chicken and veggies you want him to sample.
  4. Avoid food fights. Don't make too big a deal when, say, your son throws his beans on the floor. Draw attention to the problem, and sometimes any attention is good attention.
  5. Get creative and come up with fun names for foods. For example, try calling salad "dessert."
  6. Work toward repeat exposures. Studies have found that a child may need to taste a new food eight or nine times before truly accepting it.
  7. Respect your child's appetite. If your daughter doesn't seem interested in eating more than a bite or two of dinner, it's okay. When kids dictate how much they eat meal to meal, they thrive.
  8. Avoid becoming a short-order cook for your family. If you've made pot roast for dinner, that's what's on the menu -- your kids have to take it or leave it.

Food Jags

Your toddler is eating and enjoying a variety of foods, until one day he will eat only plain spaghetti or hot dogs. By day three, parental panic sets in: Will this behavior last forever?

"Don't worry. Food jags are normal," assures Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "Showing food preferences can be one ways a young child displays her emerging identity." Most kids will give up a jag by themselves, so it's fine to indulge your child for a short time. But if the jag continues or more than two weeks, gently intervene. "At that point, your child can begin to have possible nutrient deficiencies," she says.

Slowly and nonchalantly reduce your child's portion of the jag food; serve him less spaghetti, for example, while also placing other choices on his plate. When he asks for more of his favorite, say, "That's all there is for tonight." Over the next several days, slowly phase out the jag food.

Originally published in American Baby magazine, June 2007.

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