My five grandkids range in eating style from “She’ll eat anything within arm’s reach” to “She lives on grilled cheese and plain noodles.” Still, although I’ve never seen a child starve himself or herself in more than 30 years of practice, parents fret about their children’s nutrition. In that light, you may be asking yourself, “Why won’t my child eat?”
Generally, one or more of three primary reasons may apply: (1) He or she is exerting independence; (2) he or she simply isn’t hungry at the moment; or (3) (sorry mom and dad), the food tastes unappealing.
That said, try these four tips to make a picky eater grow gustatorily:
• Encourage your child to try new things without threatening his or her independence. The real value is not that he or she will eat asparagus today, but that he or she will learn to try new things and eventually like green veggies.
• Don’t bribe or serve really small portions, and encourage your child to eat by emphasizing a food’s color, appearance, aroma and texture, not its flavor.
• Try adding a bit of embellishment. That broccoli may become more appealing with some ketchup or cheese sauce on it.
• Rather than surrender and grab some cereal, try giving your child control over what he or she needs to try.
Also, parents, consider allowing your children to help make dinner. Not only does this allow quality time between you and them, but also, kids involved in preparing their own food show more willingness to try to new things. If they help mix ingredients for dinner or select the sides to be served (from your choices, of course), they may show an increased likelihood of taking ownership in the meal and want everyone to eat it.
Otherwise, if you commonly hear “I’m not hungry now” during mealtime, recognize that a 2-year-old needs far fewer calories per pound than he or she did the year before, as the speed of growth slows. If food consumed at any one meal seems insufficient, evaluate your child’s intake over a three- to five-day period.
Because it’s natural to prefer sweet foods to bitter ones, moreover, preparation can make a big difference. Maybe your child will like his or her vegetables roasted instead of boiled, fresh instead of canned. Try serving some things raw; your child may prefer carrots cold to cooked or firm to soft.
Finally, feed your kids well, and avoid processed, prepared and junky foods. Turn off the TV, and make mealtime quality time with mom and dad – and remember to model behavior. If you eat a variety of good foods, your child should, too … eventually.
Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Kids (mercykids.org), an expansive network of pediatric care dedicated to meeting the needs of every child, every day.