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Cooking for Picky Eaters

Everyday cooking can be a real hassle when you have a picky eater in the family. As a matter of fact, meals can become downright frustrating, tempers might flare, and before you know it, the whole family is arguing or upset.

Dealing with a picky eater can be quite a trial. Furthermore, parents fear that the child who doesn’t like to eat certain foods is risking his/her health and not getting the foods they need for a balanced diet, making the situation even more stressful.

Not to fear, most nutritionists say. Most children eventually come around and begin to try new and different things, even if – in some cases – it takes until the teenage years for this to happen. And while that seems like an awfully long time, these experts say there are plenty of things you can do to gently encourage your child to eat better without turning them away from good foods all together.

Preparing for Mealtime

If dinnertime is a battlefield in your house, consider what goes on before the meal and make some adjustments if necessary. For example, you’ll need to limit the snacks that occur before dinner. If your picky eater gets home from school at 3 pm and dinner is at 5, a very small snack is all she needs to get her through to dinner. A package of raisins, a banana, some cheese, or a few crackers is ample, perhaps along with a small juice box. Remember, hungry kids are more likely to eat what’s in front of them, even if it’s a new food they haven’t tried before.

Also allow your child to take an active role in preparing dinner. If possible, let her assist with the cooking! While you may not want your 4-year-old near the stove, she can certainly place dinner rolls in a basket or do some other safe task like set the table. Older picky eaters can certainly help with the cooking in some way. It has been demonstrated that when a child helps with meal preparations, she is more likely to be eager to eat it. In addition, cooking is a skill everyone will need to learn at some point so why not begin now?

Assess his Appetite

Kids simply don’t eat as much as adults, though that’s sometimes hard to believe. So don’t give your child large portions – especially of a new food – and expect them to clean their plate. About half the size of an adult portion is reasonable for elementary aged children and younger.

Secondly, if you are introducing a new food, provide just a spoonful the first time and then serve it again the next week. Nutritionists note that it takes most children more than one try to determine whether or not they like a particular food. And while they may not enjoy it when they’re 5 years old, they may like it at 7, so don’t hesitate to reintroduce the food, even if your child turned up his nose at it previously.

“Disguise” Foods

Just because your child doesn’t like tomatoes when served alone, it doesn’t mean he won’t eat them if they’re diced and put on top of tacos or it they’re part of a chunky homemade spaghetti sauce. Or perhaps your child hates bananas but might consider eating them once they’re mixed with other fruits and made into a refreshing smoothie.
Be clever about how you serve foods. Some foods in their natural state don’t look so appetizing, so you’ll have to figure out how to present them so that they are more attractive.

Focus on Family not Food

The last thing you want is for your dinner table to become a combat zone, but that’s what often happens when families have picky eaters. If, however, you concentrate on other things rather than whether little Cindy is eating her broccoli, you’ll find that there’s less of a problem.

When kids are engaged in lively conversation or have the opportunity to tell you about their day or share jokes while sitting around the dinner table, they tend to think less about what’s on their plate. When this happens, eating becomes automatic and is secondary to the other fun things going on at the dinner table.