- Serve age-appropriate portions. Give toddlers portions that are one-fourth to one-third the size of adult portions.
- Offer new and unfamiliar foods, but do so in small portions and don’t insist that your child eat everything. In fact, when a food is served for the first time, let your child know that you only expect him to sample it and that he may spit it out if he doesn’t like it. (We do this all the time and it works quite well. We tell Alex that if he at least tries a new food, then he can have what he’s asking for. More often than not – especially if the new food is not a veggie – he’ll like it and start scarfing it down.)
- Serve your child’s old favorites — or at least a familiar, acceptable food — at each meal. If you want to add a dish that your child has not shown much interest in before, pair it with something she likes.
- Serve a small dessert with dinner. The dessert will stimulate her appetite, making her more willing to move on to more nutritious fare.
- Don’t worry if each meal is not nutritionally complete. (Your child’s body will absorb the nutrients it needs.)
- Don’t use food as either a reward or a punishment. If you bribe your child to eat her spinach so that she can have a “yummy dessert,” you inadvertently reinforce the idea that sweets are better than nutritious food. If you reward good behavior with a treat, you teach an unhealthy association between food and positive feelings. Likewise, if you threaten to withhold a food treat for any unacceptable behavior, you teach that food can be used as a weapon, an idea that even a young child can internalize and use at future meals. (I actually don’t think there’s anything wrong with “eat your spinach first.” I think it’s only realistic to admit that dessert is more (usually) desirable than veggies – I just want my boys to learn that they need to eat in balance.)
- Don’t prepare separate meals for your picky eater. (This is probably good advice for older kids who understand that they can manipulate mom or dad into giving them a special meal, but I made separate food for Alex almost every day until he was about two because he just wasn’t ready to eat what Marc and I were eating.)
- Don’t make enticing foods your child sees others enjoying completely off limits. Allow her the occasional candy or soft drink to avoid making these foods seem even more enticing. (This is definitely true. My mom forbade me from eating Oreos when I was a kid and after I grew up and could buy my own, I went through a massive Oreo binge until I realized that they’ll always be there.)
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