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Encouraging healthy eating habits in children

Rene Ficek
Rene Ficek

If your young child is a picky eater, you are not alone. All young children are picky about food.

Sometimes they eat, sometimes they don’t. It takes a while for children to warm up to unfamiliar foods. They may have to watch you eat, touch or taste a food 15 or 20 (or even more) times before they learn to like it. The best thing a parent can do is provide a good example and be patient.   

Understand the division of responsibility 

The parent is responsible for what, when, where and the child is responsible for how much and whether. The fundamental job of parents is to trust children to decide how much and whether to eat. If parents do their jobs with feeding, children do their jobs with eating. This doesn’t come naturally to most parents, so it may take some practice and patience.    

Refrain from using pressure

Pressure can be hard to detect. If you are doing something to get your child to eat more, less or different food than he or she does on his own, then it is pressure. Pressure on children's eating always backfires. Forcing healthy food will make them eat less. Not forcing food makes children eat more. It’s important to remember the division of responsibility. Provide what, when, and where and the child will do the rest. Meal times should be enjoyable, not torture. If you enjoy mealtime and foods yourself, children will follow in those footsteps.  

Everyday Tips 

In order to address picky eating, parents must be consistent with feeding. One of the easiest ways to do this is with family meals. By following a set of guidelines and rules on a consistent basis, children will develop a healthy relationship with food.   

•Teach children to be polite when refusing food. A simple "no thank you," rather than an "EWW" can go a long way.

•Have regular meals and structured snacks so your child can be hungry but not starved at mealtime

•Have family meals, and make those meals a pleasure and a privilege, not a chore. To keep meals positive, don’t use pressure. Pressure will create negative feelings toward food

•Mix it up. Pair unfamiliar with familiar food, not-yet-liked with liked foods. And be sure to include one or two side-dish foods that the child ordinarily eats, such as bread, fruit, or milk

•Let the child pick and choose from what you put on the table, even if they eat five slices of bread and nothing else  Children develop their attitudes about food at young age. It’s important for parents to provide an environment in which children can develop positive attitudes about eating and mealtime. You may not always get a child to eat, but you can help resolve negative feelings about food. After that is accomplished, children are able to push themselves into trying a greater variety of foods while learning to appreciate different tastes and flavors.     

• RENE FICEK, whose column runs the last Tuesday of each month in The Times, is a registered dietitian nutritionist for Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating. She can be reached by emailing tammies@mywebtimes.com.

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