by Gretchen Hofing (originally posted 2010) /
Through my work in nutrition education, some of the most common questions I am asked have to do with feeding children, especially those who may be “picky eaters.” Questions come from parents, grandparents, teachers, childcare providers—you name it. I recently ran across these “research-supported, mother-tested” strategies from behavioral nutritionist Jennifer Orlet Fisher, director of the Family Eating Laboratory in Temple University’s Center for Obesity Research and Education that really hit the highlights.
- Repeated exposure: Stock fridges and pantries with what you want children to eat. Make it accessible (fruit in containers, vegetables cut up). Acceptance takes time.
- Take advantage of hungry stomachs: Encourage children to “take a bite” of new foods at the start of a meal when they are eager to eat. Before-dinner snack? Vegetable.
- Share: Avoid the kid food/adult food dichotomy. Try sharing a plate with very young kids on your lap.
- Avoid bribes, threats, and rewards: Short-term fixes get kids to eat but also make foods less liked in the long run.
- Get kids on board by getting them involved: Let them in the kitchen (a 2-year-old can scrub vegetables, a 3-year-old mix ingredients, 4- to 6-year-olds peel oranges and beat eggs. Offer choices (carrots or peas?). Afterward, ask what they thought and accept their answers.
Five Tips for Nurturing Moderation
- Out of sight/out of mind: Line the shelves with healthful choices that put food wars to rest.
- Be a model: Eat moderately. Abandon ice cream after a filling meal (but enjoy it at other times!)
- Pay attention to portion size: If the first serving is small, a second will be OK. Don’t eat out of cartons. Use kid-size cups and plates.
- Avoid food traps: Holding dessert hostage until veggies are finished only makes sweets more appealing.
- Focus on the big picture: Tight control over individual foods or meals can harm more than help. Provide good choices – and then let kids learn how to rely on their own hunger and fullness cues when eating.
Have you used any of these strategies with young children? What do you find the easiest to do or where are your biggest struggles?
Final note: As children grow, it is important for parents to continue offering healthy foods to support adequate growth and development in their children. But sometimes children don’t react ideally to new and healthy foods. Learn what your child’s reactions mean and how to channel their behavior into an enjoyable and healthy eating experience by viewing this recorded webinar called “Early Parenting and Feeding Practices”:
The webinar focuses on parenting styles with children ages 3 through 5 and discusses how the feeding relationship between parents and children can affect your child’s health and views of food.
Gretchen Hofing served as a nutritionist for the Michigan State University Extension Office in 2010 and now lives and works in North Carolina.by