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 Image of Ilana, registered dietitian, in a kitchen with a healthy snack in front of her.

  1. Offer a variety of healthy foods for meals and snacks.

    As a parent or caregiver, your job is to provide your child with healthy choices at meal and snack times. It’s then up to your child to decide what, how much and (sometimes) whether they will eat. Allowing children to listen to their bodies—eating when they are hungry and stopping when they are full—will help to develop healthy eating habits for life. Offer balanced meals with foods from all three food groups—vegetables and fruit, whole grain products and protein foods. Most children will eat what they need, even if their appetite changes from day to day.

  2. Be persistent, but not forceful, when offering a variety of food choices.

    Younger children may suddenly become picky and not want much variety in their food choices. It’s not uncommon for kids to have a negative reaction to different textures, temperatures and tastes of foods. Keep on offering these foods in a pleasant and relaxed atmosphere and maybe your child will eventually give different foods a fair... and maybe even enjoy it!

  3. Avoid labels and set realistic expectations for children’s eating habits.

    Don’t label food as “good food” and “bad food.” All foods can have a place in healthy eating and a healthy relationship with self. Being neutral about food choices and allowing your child to be curious about food is desirable. Threatening, prodding, scolding, bribing, punishing and judgment can cause your child to resist eating even more and is harmful. Praise and encouragement will help them develop food likes and dislikes.

  4. Include your child in menu planning and engage them early to grow their interest.

    Children enjoy deciding what to make for dinner. Talk to your child about making choices and planning a balanced meal. Including kids on grocery trips can be a great way to get them involved and to explore opportunities. Older kids and teenagers may unknowingly (or intentionally) give you hints to learn more about their preferences and what the root of their picky eating habits are.

  5. Let them know when it’s almost time to eat.

    Let your child know about 10 or 15 minutes before dinner starts. Many kids need time to shift their focus and to be ready to enjoy mealtime.

  6. Include them in the process of meal preparation.

    Involve your child in meal preparation, when age appropriate. Many kids can wash vegetables, pour liquids, stir or mix ingredients and so on. It might help them be open to trying foods if they help to prepare them. They will probably also enjoy helping you set the table.

  7. When you can, eat as a family and make mealtime a positive experience.

    Eat together at the table and try to make mealtime social and fun, even if your child has a short attention span. Keep conversation light and friendly and ask questions about their day. Mealtime is not the ideal time to hash out problems, especially if your child is resistant to mealtime to begin with. Trying to convince your child why they will like a certain food will only make them feel defensive, misunderstood and perhaps rebellious and then they certainly will not want to try any new foods! Avoid commentary, a celebration or a scene, which may only embarrass them!


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