You will hardly find a parent who is not complaining about her toddler’s eating habits. It’s no secret, most children are picky eaters and there are two main reasons for this. The first is biological; the second is psychological.
From a biological point of view, our bodies are programmed to prefer sweet foods. This is an evolutionary survival mechanism since in nature sweet berries are usually good for eating while bitter ones are more likely to be poisonous. This is why young children prefer foods with a sweet tinge like ketchup or French fries, not to mention candies.
From a psychological point of view, toddlers have perfectly learned to identify adults’ concerns about their problematic eating habits. They enjoy all the attention they get from their nervous parents and sometimes even use food to extort all kinds of benefits like more TV time.
How can you handle Picky eaters?
Here are a few practical tips that will help parents improve their toddlers’ eating habits.
The most important thing is not to make a fuss about food
If your child does not want to eat, it’s OK. She may leave the table and come back to it when she is hungry. In that way, food will return to its right proportions and won’t be used as a means to attract attention or extract benefits.
You need not worry, your child won’t starve herself. Eventually she will eat on condition that you don’t supplement missing meals with candies or snacks.
You must be insistent. In the first couple of days, she will strongly protest using all means at her disposal including shouting and crying. However, sooner than later she will accept the new reality that food, as much as it’s important, is nothing more than food.
Eating should not be rewarded
The main function of food is to nourish the body. We don’t eat to get a reward. Understanding that, your child will develop healthy eating habits that will serve her well later in life.
Help your child get used to better food
Try to introduce foods or flavors that your child likes to make it easier for her to adopt healthier eating habits.
As mentioned above, toddlers prefer sweet. That is not necessarily bad. There are highly nutrient sweet foods such as batata which is rich vitamin A and complex carbohydrates or halva which contains plenty of calcium and iron. Sorbet ice-cream should be preferred to regular ice-cream. The former is lower in calories and is very delicious.
Don’t change the menu, change the ingredients
Some unhealthy foods can be prepared in a much healthier way. Hamburgers that children like so much do not necessarily have to be categorized as junk food. If you make a home-made hamburger using lean beef rich in protein and a whole wheat bun, you will make sure your kid gets a tasty and nutrient meal. French fries can be baked in the oven instead of using a pan to avoid fried oil. You don’t need to be a chef to fix good supper or lunch.
Limit the number of sweets and snacks your child eats on a daily basis
To deny children the fun of eating sweets and snacks altogether is unrealistic and probably wrong. But it does not mean you cannot limit it. One sweet (and no more than one) every two days is fine. In that way, your child will learn to value each candy she gets much more.
Toddlers under the age of 2 should not be given sweets at all.
Proper eating routine
Proper eating routine is vital for instilling good eating habit. Be sure to have family dinner at least twice a week, not including the weekend. Do this even if not all the family members are present. It will require you to get home earlier, but the benefits of all the family sitting together at the table are enormous. It is an opportunity to take a break from everyone’s crazy schedule and relax, share your experience with your children and listen to their stories.
Allow your child to take part in preparing family meals. Your child will enjoy helping you and demonstrate her “abilities”. Beyond that, it is much more fun for a child to eat something she was involved in preparing.
Last but not least, eating must be done around the table and especially not in front of the TV. This will prevent what dietician refer to as ‘occasional eating’, which is one of the main causes of child obesity.
Set an example
This tip is the most difficult to implement as it requires parents to be proactively involved in educating their children to eat properly.
All that is mentioned above is worthless unless you as a parent set a good example. You cannot demand your child to avoid junk food if you live on hotdogs and pizza. Toddlers who grow up in a house where candies are abundant, will not be willing to give up sugary foods. Conversely, if your toddler grows up in house with good eating habits, she will follow suit.
One final word
The tips that appear in this article are fundamental for creating a healthy environment for your toddlers and children. It is not going to be easy to make the necessary adjustments. But, to be honest, you do not have much of a choice. According to the CDC, 17% of all children in the United States (12.7 million) are considered obese. You do not want your child to be among them.