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Winning mealtime: Tips for parents of picky eaters!

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If you’re a parent, you’ve likely dealt with picky eating at one point or another, especially with young children. Strong opinions about foods they like/dislike, always wanting snacks, and refusing to try anything new seem to be just another part of childhood. 

“From my travels as a parent, it seemed for the years of my kids' early childhood and school age that snack time was all the time. In the car. While in a stroller. During dinner”, says Jack Maypole, MD, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center. “A hankering for items of the high sodium, cheddar-y orange food group -- like Cheez-It’s or mac 'n' cheese -- is incredibly common, but we can do better, and not succumb to the temptations of highly processed foods.”

Having a child who is picky about food can cause a lot of worry for parents, since their health is a number one priority. While most kids get plenty of variety and nutrition in their diets over the course of a week, until their food preferences mature, consider these important tips to avoid disagreements at the dinner table.

Presentation is key 

Make mealtime a positive experience by involving kids in prepping food, and getting enthusiastic with craft and presentation. Try to make exploring new foods fun by focusing on shapes, colors, or smells, and encourage them each step of the way! This can cultivate interest and curiosity during mealtime, which can lead to less-picky eating in the future.

Make it fun 

If you’re pushing your child to try veggies, try serving them with their favorite dip or sauce. Offer new foods alongside other foods that they may already be familiar with. For example, if your child really loves pasta, try serving a small portion of broccoli on the side. Ease into it!

 “It can take from 8-10 exposures to a new food for some children to even touch it or try it,” a reminder from Dr. Maypole

Recruit their help

Encourage your child to participate in choosing healthy foods at the grocery store (and stay upbeat and positive while doing so!). Try to avoid aisles containing foods that you are trying to steer them away from and ask them to help you choose healthy produce instead.

Set a good example

Whether you realize it or not, your child is always watching! When attempting to change their eating habits, it helps to practice what you preach and make healthy food choices for yourself. Try to avoid stocking cabinets with sugary, processed items. Instead, do your best to eat wholesome, nutritious meals when possible.

 “It can take from 8-10 exposures to a new food for some children to even touch it or try it,” a reminder from Dr. Maypole “I counsel parents: gentle persistence and re-introduction, in the company of known, beloved foods can help kids develop a taste or tolerance for these new things.”

The good news is that limited picky eating usually doesn’t have a large effect on your child’s overall. In fact, most kids will outgrow this once they’re past the early childhood stage.

If you have questions or concerns, you can always consult your child’s pediatrician for advice. For more information or to schedule a visit with a pediatrician, visit bmc.org/pediatrics.