How Do I Make Sure My Picky Eater Gets the Nutrition He Needs?

posted: 04/12/16
by: Katie Morton
Boy landing face in food

If you feel like your young child exists only on air and single bites of cereal, you're not alone! Picky eating is most definitely a stage that young children go through. And as a parent, it can be frustrating watching your children turn their nose up at your nutritional offerings.

However, rest assured that ALL younger children are predisposed to pick at their food. Biology suggests that after a full year of rapid infant growth spurts, development slows, which impacts eating habits. Not to mention, young kids are just starting to explore their world and would rather go-go-go than sit for a long meal, making breakfast, lunch and dinner a challenge.

That being said, how do you ensure that your picky eater is getting the right nutrition they need to grow? And how do you avoid turning meals into a battle of wills? We have some pro tips to help ensure your child is getting all the nutrients he or she needs.

Market their meals

Take a cue from successful businesses and make the snacks you're offering as desirable as possible. Try offering them opportunities to "graze" throughout the day to keep them happy and healthy. Serve miniature finger-sized foods in a freezer ice-cube tray or a muffin tin that they can hold on their own.

Dr. Sears recommends calling snacks cute names that young children like to say, such as apple moons, avocado boats, banana wheels, broccoli trees, carrot swords, cheese building blocks, egg canoes, and little O's.

Try making food visually appealing with colorful details. Veggie Faces (like these from Two Healthy Kitchens) can go a long way to selling broccoli to a toddler.

Make it fun

Consider letting the kids help in the kitchen -- it gives them agency over their own food and creates bonding time with you. If you have a garden, they can help you water and pick the veggies.

Consider letting your kids "play with their food." Dips are an easy way to allow toddlers enjoy their food. Think yogurt, cream cheese, nut butters, or cottage cheese--all healthy dips that toddlers can dunk their nibbles in.

Drink it

There's no rule that says nutrition needs to come in the form of solid food. If your picky little one would rather drink it than eat it, embrace it.

Smoothies with milk and fruit or a mix of protein-rich Greek yogurt and peanut butter can provide a delicious treat with a nutritional boost. You can power up their smoothie with other supplements, too. Mix in some juice, egg powder, wheat germ or check out these unique toddler-friendly ideas for new smoothie recipes. If you think a green smoothie will turn off picky eaters, be sure to choose an opaque cup!

Powerhouse Calories

When you feel like your child isn't eating much during the day, it can be worrying that they may not be getting the calories they need to grow. Try to pack some nutrition into their diets with picky-eater-approved, calorie-rich foods.

Here's a short list to work from:

  • Veggies - Avocado, broccoli, sweet potatoes, potatoes, corn, sweet squash (butternut or acorn)
  • Healthy Carbs - Brown rice, pasta
  • Protein - Nut butters (*substitute sunflower butter for nut allergies), chicken breast, eggs, tofu
  • Dairy - Greek yogurt, cheese, cream cheese

Feeding your picky eater can be a trying experience, but know that this phase is simply a part of growing up. Focus on fun foods and healthy calories, and you'll be able to get your child the proper nutrition they need, while avoiding meltdowns at mealtime. However, if you notice that your child is lowing weight, or there are fewer than 20 foods that your child eats, consider talking to your child's pediatrician.