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Helpful tips for picky eaters

It is very challenging and frustrating to get young children to eat what they need. Children 2-4 years are in transition and don’t need to eat as much as they did their first year of life. They also are exercising their control and that shows during meal times. What do toddlers need during this time period?

Nutritional guidelines per day for children 2-4 years old:

MILK 3 servings
1 serving= 2/3 cup milk or yogurt 1/4 c. cottage cheese
1 oz or 1 slice of cheese
MEAT 2 servings:
1 serving= 1-2 oz meat,fish, poultry
1-2 TB peanut butter
1/4 beans, peas or tofu
1 egg
FRUIT/VEGGIE 5-6 servings
1 serving= 1/3 cup canned fruit
½ piece fruit
1/3 cup cooked or
chopped raw veg
1/4 cup juice
BREAD/CEREAL 5-6 servings
1 serving= 1 slice bread
1/4-1/2c. cereal
pasta, or rice
½ muffin
2 crackers

How do you let them feel in control while getting them to eat a variety of nutritious foods. It is your job as a parent to offer them a variety of good food and their job to decide how much and what they are going to eat. Remember they are only able to eat what you give them. It is normal for children this age to have fluctuating appetites and also to only want to eat certain foods (known as "food jags")for several days in a row. Some children will eat a large breakfast only to refuse to eat much the rest of the day. Try some of these tips to deal with these issues:

* You should offer small portions of several types of food. They can be overwhelmed by
large portions and you can always give them more if they ask for more. Offer new or less liked foods at the beginning of the meal when they are hungry to increase the chances they will try these foods. If a certain food is refused, don’t make a battle over it and offer it again at another meal.

* Offer foods that they like with each meal and if they will only eat one food, don’t make
a big issue over it. Food jags usually don’t last long and they will tire of this food sooner than if you make a deal of it.

* Snacks should be offered 2-3 times daily since children this age can’t eat a lot at one time and need the energy to keep up this their activities. To ensure that children are hungry for mealtime snacks shouldn’t be offered too close to meals. They also shouldn’t drink too much liquids (esp juice) between meals since this can fill them up and not allow for other nutritious foods. Milk, juice or water can be offered with snacks and meals and esp during warm weather, but limit to no more than 1/4-1/2 c. at a time.

* Some good snacks are crackers, cheese, fruit, veggie sticks (for children over 3), peanut butter sandwiches, unsweetened cereals, pudding, yogurt, milkshakes, bread or bagels and frozen juice or yogurt pops. Snacks are counted toward the total daily dietary guidelines and should be nutritious and varied.

* It is probably the hardest to get them to eat a good variety of vegetables. You can “disguise”
them in pasta sauces (i.e. broccoli and carrots pureed and added to tomato sauce), serve them
with cheese sauce or dip, bake into breads (banana or pumpkin), and puree or grate into meatloafs and soups. Fruits can be blended with yogurt or ice cream to make a smoothie or use frozen fruit blended with milk.

* Serve food with a small plate that is divided into sections, so food doesn’t mix together, since some children don't like their food to be mixed.

* Never force your child to finish what is on their plate or to try a new food. Ask that they at least try one bite. Don’t bribe or beg them to try a food, just put it away. It could take several time before they are willing to try it, so be patient.

Finally, be patient and realize that normal children are picky eaters and as long as they continue to grow they will be just fine. If variety is a concern, a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement could be given until eating habits are better established. These first years don't last forever and it is important to give them a good solid foundation upon which to build their future eating habits.