Bill Sears, M.D., is an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine. He's also the father of 8 kids, so he knows a thing or two about trying to feed picky eaters. Dr. Sears called on his experience as a dad and his knowledge as a pediatrician to come up with these 20 creative and helpful tips that will tempt your toddler's taste buds and minimize mealtime hassles.
- Offer a nibble tray. Toddlers like to graze their way through a variety of foods, so offer them a customized smorgasbord. Use an ice-cube tray, a muffin tin, or a compartmentalized dish, and put bite-size portions of colorful and nutritious foods in each section. Call these finger foods playful names such as: apple moons, avocado boats, banana wheels, broccoli trees, etc. Place the food on an easy-to-reach table. As your toddler makes his rounds through the house, he can stop, sit down, nibble a bit, and when he’s done, continue on his way.
- Keep food servings small. A young child’s stomach is approximately the size of his fist. So dole out small portions at first and refill the plate when your child asks for more. This less-is-more meal plan is not only more successful with picky eaters, it also has the added benefit of stabilizing blood-sugar levels, which in turn minimizes mood swings. As most parents know, a hungry kid is generally not a happy kid. As much as you possibly can, let your child -- and his appetite -- set the pace for meals. But if you want your child to eat dinner at the same time you do, try to time his snack-meals so that they are at least two hours before dinner.
- Let them cook. Children are more likely to eat their own creations, so, when appropriate, let your child help prepare the food. Use cookie-cutters to create edible designs out of foods like cheese, bread, thin meat slices, or cooked lasagna noodles. Give your assistant such jobs as tearing and washing lettuce, scrubbing potatoes, or stirring batter. Put pancake batter in a squeeze bottle and let your child supervise as you squeeze the batter onto the hot griddle in fun shapes, such as hearts, numbers, letters, or even spell the child’s name.
- Turn meals upside down. The distinctions between breakfast, lunch, and dinner have little meaning to a child. If your child insists on pizza in the morning or fruit and cereal in the evening, go with it -- better than her not eating at all. This is not to say that you should become a short-order cook, filling lots of special requests, but why not let your toddler set the menu sometimes?
- Top it. Toddlers are into toppings. Putting nutritious, familiar favorites on top of new and less-desirable foods is a way to broaden the finicky toddler’s menu. Favorite toppings are yogurt, cream cheese, melted cheese, guacamole, tomato sauce, applesauce, and peanut butter.
For the other 15 tips for getting picky eaters to eat, download Dr. Sears' Guide to Feeding Toddlers -- it's free at Stonyfield.com.
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