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Picky Eaters - Getting Children and Teenagers to Eat Healthy


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Do you have a picky-eater in your house? Are you struggling to get your children to eat a healthy, balanced meal because they simply refuse to eat healthy food? Is your picky eater becoming an overweight statistic, willing to only eat fried foods, pizza, hot dogs, waffles and other sugar-coated sweet treats? You may even find yourself feeling like you've become a “short order" cook in your own home, serving up cafeteria-style meals for each family member just to keep the peace. If this sounds at all familiar, and you want to learn how to get your picky eater to eat healthy foods and have better health, carefully consider the following:

Children learn what they live, so if parents are not setting the right example, by eating a healthy diet themselves, parents are setting the stage for failure with their own children's health. Getting children to eat healthy food needs to begin when children are very young, while their tastes for different foods are still developing. Toddlers and older children can learn to love healthy foods, even if they are now very picky about what they will or will not eat.

"Samantha" is an overweight eight year-old child, who has just begun eating salads and a couple varieties of meats. Until very recently, she refused to eat anything but hot dogs, waffles, pizza, chicken nuggets, French fries and anything loaded with sugar. When she and her parents are invited to dinner at someone's home, they inevitably bring along a box of frozen waffles and syrup to heat and serve their “picky eater" in place of the planned meal. Samantha's parents’ would lament, “we think she has a mental block", due to her refusal to eat anything remotely healthy. I dare say it isn't the child who has a mental block! Samantha's parents have enabled this behavior in their child by passing on their own dislike of healthy foods, and they now have an overweight statistic to show for it.

"Tara" is a mother of two young daughters, six year old Jessica and five year old Chelsey. While Tara is preparing a healthy and nutritious meal for her husband, she will ask her daughters what they want to eat for dinner because “they hate everything", ultimately preparing three separate meals in order to “keep the peace" at the dinner table. Tara often complains that she doesn't like this never-ending ritual, but fails to realize that putting a stop to it is well within her abilities as a parent of these two young girls.

Children that are picky eaters are that way because parents are allowing it to happen. It's your parental responsibility to make the rules about meals and snacks - not your child or teenagers. If you want your children to eat healthy , then serve them healthy and nutritious meals that the entire family can enjoy together. If your child adamantly refuses to eat the healthy meal set before them, then cover and save their meal in the refrigerator until they later say they're hungry. Then simply say, “That's good because I saved your dinner for you". Reheat and serve the meal to your child. Children that are truly hungry will eat. Children are not harmed by missing a meal or two. It's important to remember that being a picky eater is a learned behavior, and it will take time and determination on the part of the parents’ to change things around.

Getting your children to learn to love fruits and vegetables can often be accomplished by offering small amounts of dipping sauces, dressings, or flavored low-fat yogurt to dip into. Instead of doling out cookies, brownies, donuts, chips and other high-calorie snacks, keep a variety of well-stocked fresh fruits or vegetables in easy reach of hungry children. From the time my children were very young, they ate and snacked on fresh and uncooked broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery with peanut butter, and all varieties of fresh fruits. We regularly introduced new items, especially different ethnic foods, and over a period of time learned to love all healthy foods. Sugary sweets such as cakes or cookies were saved for a special treat on weekends, rather than a nearly nightly occurrence following the evening meal.

Changing the behavior of a picky eater may not be an easy task, but nothing about parenting is easy. The sooner parents’ start changing their own attitudes and behaviors towards healthy eating, the sooner they can expect their children to do the same.


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