Tips for Coping with Picky Eaters

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July 18, 2013

LINCOLN, Neb. — For some parents, nothing can be more stressful than meal time, especially with picky eaters.  

"Parents get really stressed at meal times and one of the best things they can do is just relax," said Cami Wells, University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension educator and author of the guide "Feeding Without the Fuss."

Many children experience neophobia, or aversion to new foods.

Twin studies have shown that 78 percent of neophobia may be genetic and 22 percent may be from environmental factors such as the media and the influences of other children.

Other studies have shown that babies who are breastfed are more likely to try new foods because they have been exposed to a variety of flavors.

Parents with children who are picky eaters should offer a variety of healthy foods, Wells said.

"Be the role model," Wells said. "Enjoy healthy foods yourself."

Wells advises parents to encourage children to eat healthy foods by making mealtimes fun. Cut food into fun shapes and choose colorful meals. Add chopped broccoli and other vegetables.

A child's portions should be smaller and they should use child-size utensils.

Some children have an aversion to vegetables because they taste bitter. Offering a low-fat vegetable dip can encourage kids to eat vegetables, Wells said.

Letting children help prepare meals is one way to encourage them to eat a variety of new foods. Children like to eat food they've helped prepare, Wells said.

The guide offered tips on how to talk to children when eating. The tips include:

– Do not force a child to finish his or her meal.

– Avoid praising a clean plate

– Instead of saying "you're such a big boy, you finished all your broccoli," or "you have to take two more bites before you leave the table," try saying "is your stomach telling you that you're full?"

– Instead of saying "eat that for me" or "if you don't eat that I will be sad," try saying "this is a mango; it's sweet like a strawberry," or "this celery is very crunchy!"

– Instead of saying "no dessert until you eat your veggies," or "stop crying and I will give you some candy," try saying "we can try these veggies again another time," or

"I am sorry you are sad. Come here and let me give you a hug."

To visit the guide, go to:

Cami Wells
Extension Educator

Heather Haskins
Student Writer

Dan Moser
IANR News Service

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