Ten Tips to Promote Healthy Eating Habits For Your Young Child

If you have a child who is a particularly picky eater and are struggling to improve her eating habits, please have a read through these 10 tips. Also, please don’t think of these recommendations as a “do-all-or-none” situation. One doesn’t need to accomplish all 10 before seeing results.  Try to implement as many as you feel comfortable tacking.  Add more along the way if you feel you can.  No parent can accomplish all 10 at once, but with each small change, you will likely notice interval improvements in your little ones’ eating habits.

Tip #1: Plan regular meals and snack Times

Children are less ambivalent about eating when they know when to expect their next meal.  Offer 3 meals a day (even if they will not eat) and 2-3 small snacks.  The meals should be around the same time every day. Offer small snacks about 2 hours before the next meal. Ideally, a snack would be much smaller than a meal. An example of a small snack could be 2 crackers and a little piece of cheese, a small piece of fruit or a single-serve yogurt. Avoid offering food or drinks other than water between planned meals and snacks.  It is important for children to feel the sensation of hunger to motivate feeding.  This can only happen if sufficient time passes between meals/snacks.

Tip #2: Serve meals in the same place

Try to serve meals in the same place such as the kitchen or dining room.  As opposed to eating alone, children tend to eat more reliably when alongside their family or peers.  As often as possible, eat your meals with your child so that you role-model healthful eating.

Tip #3: Set a time limit

Allow 20-30 minutes for meals and 10-15 minutes for snacks. After the time is up, take any uneaten food away from your child. Avoid commenting on how little she ate.  If you are upset or angry, try your hardest to not convey these emotions towards your child.

Tip #4: Do not force your child to eat

Do not force your child to eat as this will more than likely make the situation worse. Also, avoid using toys, TV or playing games to get her to eat since these ‘tricks’ may make her feel that she is being tricked into eating. If she is able to feed herself then allow her to do so. If she needs help, be sure to give her a spoon too so she feels more in control of her eating.

Tip #5: Offer small portions

Do not put too much food on the plate. Start with half portions of food and offer seconds when your child wants more. When too much food is on the plate, it may intimidate and make your child less likely to eat.

Tip #6: Make the meals a pleasant experience

Encourage your child to play with her food. Accommodate, even celebrate mess. Always clean up after the meal is over so you don’t interrupt the flow of eating.  If your child feeds herself, let her decide how fast she wishes to eat within the designated time limit.

Tip #7: Say only good things at meals or nothing at all

A positive comment like “great job” may help to reinforce healthful eating habits.  Negative feedback, on the other hand, generally doesn’t help (and may harm). It is much better to ignore if your child eats little or nothing at a meal. Just calmly take away the food with no comments. This will take the pressure off the child, will make mealtimes more pleasant, will allow hunger to build for the next meal, and will eventually improve her eating.

Tip #8: Cut down on juice, pop, and milk

Fluids like milk, juice, and other sweet beverages contain large quantities of sugar – there can be up to 10 teaspoons of sugar in a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice. Even though the sugar may be natural, too much of these drinks can over-satiate your child making her less hungry at meals. Limit juice intake to 0-4 ounces.  Limit milk intake to 16 ounces, given at the end of a meal.  Offer as much water as she likes.

Tip #9: Offer favorite foods once a day

If your child only eats a certain food, offer it for only one of the three meals. Try a variety of foods at the other meals.  For example, if the only meat your child will eat is chicken nuggets, give them for lunch or dinner and offer what the rest of the family is eating for the other meals. She will soon learn that separate foods will not be cooked for her and that she must choose from whatever is prepared. Over time, she will learn to eat and enjoy a wider variety of different foods.  Avoid giving children too much choice at a meal or snack; offer 1-2 choices only. Also, getting used to new foods may take a child several tries/days/weeks.

Tip #10: Trust your child that she will eat

Your child knows best how much to eat. It is very normal for a child’s appetite to change from day to day. So leave it up to her to decide how much to eat.