By Guest Blogger Lauren Mardeusz, RD

As a dietitian I often hear about difficulties that parents face when it comes to feeding their little ones. I have helped families navigate the waters of difficulties like failure to thrive, food allergies, GI dysfunction, feeding tubes, and diabetes. Yet, the majority of families I see in my practice also face obstacles like picky eating. They want to make sure their children are getting enough nutrients, and laying solid foundation for a healthy relationship with food. So many times I hear parents describe their own “struggles” with weight, picky eating, disordered eating, and how they don’t want their children to encounter the same thing.

First, I’d like to put your mind at ease. Know that some level of picky eating is a normal behavior for children. Most children will exhibit these behaviors-sometimes as a true dislike of certain foods. Sometimes it’s a way to express their independence, especially during childhood. So when do you need to intervene? And is there a way to prevent it?

There probably isn’t a way to stop it from happening altogether. After all, your three year old told YOU that they were wearing two different shoes today! But there are strategies that you can implement to increase the chances that your child will choose to eat the foods that you offer them. The goal of these strategies is to give the child tools to build a healthy relationship on their own.

picky eatingPrevent Picky Eating by Starting Early

In a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, it was found that children who were identified as picky eaters tended to stay that way. Early intervention by way of introducing a variety of foods can start as soon as the child begins eating complementary foods along with the child’s first foods. Offer your child lots of different foods. This includes fruits, vegetables and protein sources early, and often. This works best when you are eating a variety of foods yourself. Model the behavior as well as expose them to lots of different colors, textures, tastes and smells. Don’t be discouraged if your child doesn’t eat the brussels sprouts right away. It can take up to 20 exposures to a food before a child accepts it!

Stay Positive and Relaxed

This is a pillar of combating picky eating whether you are just starting out with solid foods, or you are trying to get your current picky eater to diversify their diet. Picky eating behaviors can be born from negative experiences with food or eating. When parents are very strict about the foods that their children can and cannot eat, or are demanding about the child’s eating, the child is more likely to be a picky eater. Whenever possible, have family meals together. Keep a positive environment. Have the child help in meal preparation. Often children are more likely to try a food when they have had a hand in preparing it.

Don’t Force or Bargain with Picky Eating

Forcing children to finish foods or “clean” their plates leads to negative experiences with food and can lead to picky eating. Research shows that when parents offer foods without pressuring their children to eat, the children develop autonomy surrounding eating and will more often choose vegetables than children that are forced to eat “healthy” foods. However well-meaning this may be, it can make things worse. Offer the same foods that the family is eating, without the pressure of making sure they finish everything. This prevents you from becoming a short-order cook, and, with practice you will become more relaxed and not worry about how little, or much, they ate.

picking eatingAs with everything as a parent, patience is a valuable tool when it comes to trying to avoid or combating picky eating. With patience and consistency the changes will come! If your child experiences symptoms of extreme picky eating or Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), contact a Registered Dietitian or Pediatrician.

Lauren Mardeusz, RD is a Pediatric and Maternal Health Registered Dietitian in Greensboro. She works with Mamas and Babes in the Triad from issues like picky eating to feeding tube management.

Instagram: @bloompedsnutrition

*Sponsored by Bloom Pediatric and Maternal Nutrition