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Riding the food elevator with picky toddlers


Dealing with a picky eater can be a frustrating and worrisome experience for parents of young children, with battle lines clearly drawn on both sides of the dinner plate. Parents may find their child voraciously eats a certain food one day, only to reject practically everything the next. But with patience and some creative thinking, parents can minimize power struggles and ensure their picky eater gets the nutrition he needs to grow up healthy and strong.

Start by following these tips from First 5 California:
* Count on inconsistency. The one thing parents can count on when it comes to toddler eating habits is inconsistency. What and how much your child eats can change from day to day. Growth spurts are spaced further apart, so you’ll find your toddler may eat everything in sight for a brief period and then hardly anything at all.

* Stick to healthy foods. When you’ve got a picky eater on your hands, it can be tempting to offer treats as an incentive to get him to eat more. Resist the urge to offer sweets or desserts as a reward because it can send the message that this is the best type of food. Instead, have dessert only a couple nights a week, or offer healthy dessert options like cut-up fruit slices.

* Build on favorites. Always include at least one favorite food in each meal you serve your child, and introduce new foods one at a time and in small amounts. It’s also OK to camouflage new foods and boost the nutritional value of what your child enjoys. For example, try adding pureed spinach or zucchini to pasta sauce.

* Respect toddler tummies. A child’s body has the ability to know how much food it needs to grow and be healthy, so don’t force your child to eat food when she doesn’t want to. When offering snacks, make sure it’s at least two hours before mealtime so that your child is hungry enough for dinner. Remember that your toddler is still adjusting to solid foods and may have trouble getting used to certain textures, colors and tastes. Meat in particular can be difficult for kids because of its stringy, chewy texture.

* Relax, don’t worry. Your attitude toward food and how much your child eats directly impacts the way she views food so relax and stay positive. For most children, this phase of fussy eating will pass. If your child picks and pecks at supper, don’t make a big fuss.

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