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Picky Eater Solutions

  • Brian Hagiwara

    "If you make me eat this, I will die!" my 5-year-old son, Daniel, wailed when I mixed peas with pasta. The horror! But he's hardly the first kid to claim mortal danger from a pea. Others eat only white food, won't go near meat, or gag at the thought of eating a Tater Tot that's touched the burger. In fact, nearly two thirds of parents describe at least one problem with their child's eating, according to a study in Contemporary Pediatrics. Although pickiness is normal and tends to lessen with age, you probably still feel you should do something if your child is living on frozen waffles. Know what you can do? Relax. There are no significant differences in overall nutrient intake between picky eaters and other kids, another study in the same journal found. And most likely, your child's diet seems worse than it is. See why on the next page, and get plenty of tips on handling all kinds of fusspots -- even yours.

    Plus:
    15 On-the-Go Breakfast Ideas
    22 Healthy Snacks Kid Will Love
    Delicious Lunch Ideas for Kids

    Tags: Picky Eating
  • Veer

    The power struggle: over!

    Little kids long to control their worlds, and doing that through food comes naturally. To break the push-pull cycle:

    Let go of your end of the emotional rope. You can't force your child to do anything, especially eat, so just stop trying. Simply offer her nutritious, varied foods -- and eat them yourself. She can have hers, or not, but you're showing her how. Do you still remember having to eat your veggies or clean your plate before you could leave the table? Adam Strauss, M.D., a pediatrician in Westwood and Mansfield, MA, offers a word of caution. "When parents demand that their kids eat certain foods, they're attaching negative connotations to it. Pretty soon, the struggle is worse." Put the food on her plate, but if it stays there, don't push her, and don't stress over it.

    Plus:
    15 On-the-Go Breakfast Ideas
    22 Healthy Snacks Kid Will Love
    Delicious Lunch Ideas for Kids

    Tags: Picky Eating
  • Veer

    The power struggle: over!

    Give straightforward praise, even if he takes only one bite of something new. For example: "It's great that you tried the chili!" Basing the praise on how you feel ("Mommy's so happy!") sends a questionable message: He controls your emotions with his fork. "I used to feel really attached to my kids' eating the dishes I'd taken the time to make. My emphasis on my split-pea soup especially made everyone miserable. Finally, one day I ignored the soup but put out some fun sides, and the kids ended up tasting the soup," recalls Heather Swain, mom of Graham, 2, and Clementine, 4, in Brooklyn.

    Plus:
    15 On-the-Go Breakfast Ideas
    22 Healthy Snacks Kid Will Love
    Delicious Lunch Ideas for Kids

    Tags: Picky Eating
  • .

    The power struggle: over!

    Don't get hung up on the time of day your child eats, or how much she eats at a sitting. It's okay if your kid doesn't eat three square meals every day as long as over the course of a week or two she eats things from each food group.

    Plus:
    15 On-the-Go Breakfast Ideas
    22 Healthy Snacks Kid Will Love
    Delicious Lunch Ideas for Kids

    Tags: Picky Eating
  • .

    Offer choices that don't matter. You may face stubborn insistence that toast have a corner unbuttered to avoid messy hands, or that cereal be served only in a Go Diego Go! bowl, or that nothing touch. While this kind of behavior is draining, it's typical at this age, says Dr. Strauss. Give him an option -- the green plate or the blue? Offering your child a limited choice is often enough to end the power struggle. But make your rules clear: "At home, you can choose your cup, but when we're out, you have to use whatever they have."

    Plus:
    15 On-the-Go Breakfast Ideas
    22 Healthy Snacks Kid Will Love
    Delicious Lunch Ideas for Kids

    Tags: Picky Eating
  • Getty

    Quirks: solved!

    My kid won't eat meat

    The texture turns off many preschoolers, and that's fine. "My two-and-a-half-year-old is basically a vegetarian, barring hot dogs and his latest discovery, ham," says Elizabeth Gonzalez, mom of Jason, 2, in Yorktown Heights, NY. "I offer lots of peanut butter, cheese, yogurt, and veggie burgers, and he's doing just fine. We always ask if he wants meat when I make it, but when he invariably says no, we say A-OK and try not to press it." Like Jason, your child can still get all the protein he needs from:

  • yogurt, cheese, or cottage cheese
  • nachos with beans and cheese
  • hard-boiled eggs or any egg dish
  • his favorite crackers dipped in hummus or spread with peanut (or nut) butter
  • cheese or even meat-filled ravioli (the pasta exterior goes a long way for meat-haters)
  • mini-tuna melts (if he's game for fish, but stick to chunk light, only twice a week)
  • Plus:
    15 On-the-Go Breakfast Ideas
    22 Healthy Snacks Kid Will Love
    Delicious Lunch Ideas for Kids

Tags: Picky Eating
  • .

    Veggies? Yeah, right

    This is the most common picky-eater problem. To convince him it's easy being green, try:

  • thinly sliced veggies stir-fried with teriyaki sauce, maybe a little chicken, and rice. Go with carrot slices and baby corn to start. Water chestnuts have little taste, and can be a good stepping-stone to serious veggies
  • zucchini muffins and veggie lasagna. (Find the world's easiest, kid-friendliest recipes at 10 Tasty Veggie Kid Meals.)
  • lettuce wraps. Use a filling he'll eat (anything goes, from turkey to cream cheese) and a romaine leaf as a wrap. The novelty of the whole thing may just win him over.
  • dressing -- honey mustard, ranch, even ketchup or melted butter -- with veggies for dipping. Put the plate next to a sure thing (say, grilled cheese) to lure him to the table. We all tend to eat more when the food is right in front of us.
  • thinking outside the frozen-corn box. "Graham hated all vegetables -- or so we thought," says Heather Swain. "We tried peas, carrots, corn...then we put kale in front of him. Turns out, he likes the bitter 'adult' veggies like kale, chard, and broccoli rabe. By continually offering him choices, we finally hit on what appeals to his taste."
  • Plus:
    15 On-the-Go Breakfast Ideas
    22 Healthy Snacks Kid Will Love
    Delicious Lunch Ideas for Kids

    Tags: Picky Eating