Any parent who has ever had a picky eater on their hands knows it can be frustrating. The food your kid seemed to gobble down a month ago is now pushed away, and they seem to want to subsist on just one or two foods. You're doing everything you can think of to get them to eat ... but are you making it worse?
Turns out sometimes the tricks parents employ with the best intentions are actually making the matter worse. Want your child to eat up? Don't try any of these common mistakes at home!
1. Forcing your child to eat. "Toddlers are mini-humans, not robots," says Danielle Fatemi, a pediatric dietitian with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "They have days where they will eat more or less than usual."
2. Making a child finish a meal. It may seem like a good way to get enough nutrients in their belly, but the age old practice is a good way to set a child up for an eating disorder. "It can lead to kids disregarding their body talk that tells them when to stop eating (aka their internal appetite regulation hormones), and may lead to a habit of overeating," warns Jill Castle, childhood nutrition expert and co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters From High Chair to High School.
3. Using dessert as a bribe. Think a treat tied to every veggie they eat is a good idea? Think again, says Fatemi. "By withholding dessert, you teach your child that it’s the best food," she explains. "That may set your child up to have a preference for sweets, or junk food."
4. Becoming a short order cook. This can quickly become a bad, bad habit for parents, and it's a hard one to break. Fatemi advises drawing a hard and fast line: "Serve one meal, and maybe have one healthy backup option, and that’s it," she says.
5. Overloading the plate. If your child hasn't been eating, it can be tempting to heap the plate full of food so they'll fill up. That can backfire, big time, Fatemi says, as a full plate can be overwhelming for a toddler. Stick to the appropriate portions for a child's size. The US Department of Agriculture has suggested meal plans that can help.
6. Using food as a reward or a punishment. Scientists have linked use of food as reward or punishment in childhood to binge eating and other problematic eating practices in adulthood. In particular, Castle says rewarding kids with food for eating behavior -- trying a new food, eating more, or eating a disliked vegetable -- can cause problems down the line. If you are looking to reward kids for something, she suggests trying stickers or other non-food rewards.
What have you found backfired with your picky eater?
Made these mistakes and need help? Help is on the way: 10 Tips to Ensure Picky Eaters Get the Nutrition They Need
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