5 Steps to Ease Your Picky Eater into a Balanced Diet

Does your child refuse to eat foods that are green? Is dinner time a constant battle? Having a child that is a picky eater can be challenging for parents. The good news is that it is possible to ease your child into a more balanced diet without tears and tantrums! 🎉 In this blog post, we will discuss what is a balanced diet as well as five steps to help ease your picky eater into a balanced diet.

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As a parent, we all know how tough it can be to get our little ones to eat a well-balanced diet, especially with picky eaters! Don’t worry, it’s normal for kids to be finicky when it comes to food, but it can still be downright frustrating. That’s why in this blog post we’ll be discussing:

Please note that the tips provided in this blog post are intended for children with typical picky eating habits. While they can provide a healthy foundation for all children, those with severe picky eating or feeding issues may require additional support.

What is a Balanced Diet?

A balanced diet is an eating pattern that contains a variety of foods from the 5 main food groups, which are: fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy. Healthy fats also play an important role in a balanced diet. Eating from all 5 groups provides your child with essential vitamins and minerals as well as other nutrients that are needed for healthy growth and development.

Importance of a Balanced Diet

A balanced diet is the foundation of health and wellness, providing essential nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other compound like disease-fighting phytonutrients. Eating a balanced diet during childhood has numerous benefits, including building strong bones and muscles, boosting immunity, improving cognitive function, and reducing the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes later in life. Children who do not consume a balanced diet may be at risk of adverse consequences including inadequate growth, weight loss or weight gain, nutrient deficiency, difficulty concentrating in school, and a weakened immune system.

5 Steps to Ease Your Picky Eater into a Balanced Diet

1. Be a Positive Role Model

Eating habits start at home and children will often follow the example of their parents. If you’re eating in a healthy and balanced way, your child is more likely to do so as well. If you don’t eat broccoli, you can’t realistically expect your child to. In addition to what you eat, having a positive attitude about food, body, and self, will encourage your child to adopt these same values. Encouraging your child to try new foods becomes easier when you show enthusiasm towards trying new foods, too.

2. Assess the Situation

Assessing your child’s picky eating habits will allow you to understand their preferences and behaviors. Is there a particular food they do not like? Do they refuse to try new foods or reject any and all vegetables? Are these behaviors new or have they been around for awhile? Keeping a food diary can be an effective tool to track the child’s eating patterns throughout the week and identify any trends. The food diary will also reveal if certain flavors, colors, or other factors contribute to the child’s decision making. Having a picture of what’s going can help you determine how to best help your child develop healthy eating habits.

3. Introduce Foods Slowly & Gradually

After you have assessed your child’s food preferences and behaviors, you can begin to slowly introduce foods with the goal of expanding their diet variety. Because sensory sensitives are a common contributing factor to picky eating, one way to do this is to introduce foods in a very small amount alongside preferred/favorite foods. You can gradually increase the portion size as they become comfortable with the new food. This will help your child adapt to the color, texture, smell, and taste of the food. This approach is a more relaxing method as opposed to forcing your child to consume the feared food. During this time, keep track of foods and your child’s responses in your food diary. This will help you remember what you’ve tried and also allow you to introduce a variety of foods from different food groups to help promote balance in your child’s diet.

4. Get Your Child Involved and Make it Fun!

Involve your child in the meal planning and preparation process. Take them grocery shopping, and let them choose a new fruit or vegetable to try. Encourage them to help with meal preparation, and make it a fun activity for both of you. The child can assist with washing and peeling the ingredients as well as making shapes with the food. This will allow for the child to explore and learn about food preparation while reducing anxiety about being around novel foods. Using a decorative, fun meal time plate for a toddler can encourage them to try each food in divided portions. By serving foods in different ways such as steaming carrots one day and roasting the next, your child will be able to decide which version they like best.

5. Follow the “Few Times a Week” Approach

Did you know that it takes about 15 to 20 times to try a food before you know if you like it? Even though that may seem like a lot, patience is key.

Even if your child doesn’t like the food at first, keep offering it several times a week. Offer the food in a variety of fun and creative ways (remember to start small!) and eventually, their tolerance for it should increase – they may even like to eat it one day!

It is important to remember that you probably won’t see immediate results when starting to expand your child’s diet. But eventually your patience will pay off when you see that your child is eating a wider variety of foods. While this process can be frustrating, it is important that you stay calm and supportive during mealtimes. Every child is different and remember to be sensitive towards your child’s opinions and reactions. Offer gentle encouragement (but avoid pressuring your child to eat) and celebrate their picky wins no matter how small they may be.

Bottom Line

By setting a good example, assessing the situation, starting small and gradual, getting your child involved, and sticking to the “few times a week” approach, mealtimes can become less stressful and more enjoyable for both you and your child.

If you feel you need additional support or tailored information on picky eating, get in touch! As a pediatric and family nutrition expert, I am happy to answer your questions and help guide you through the process!

p.s.

I love hearing your feedback! Let me know what you think of these tips. Share and tag me on social media: @fromthestartnutrition (or @fromthestartrdn on Twitter)

This post was written by Gabrielle LaSala, an undergraduate student studying Nutritional Sciences on the Dietetics path at Penn State University. After completing Graduate school, Gabrielle wants to become a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and focus on nutrition-related illnesses within pediatrics and families. Her passion for dietetics stemmed from her lifelong journey with food allergies and intolerances. Her favorite foods are steak and pasta with zucchini! Follow Gabrielle’s gluten-free adventures on Instagram!


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    beth conlon dietitian nutritionist new jersey

    Hi! I’m Beth Conlon, PhD, MS, RDN


    I'm so glad you're here!

    As a Pediatric and Family Nutrition Expert and mom of 4, I truly understand the ups and downs of feeding children. This is a space where you can get tips and tricks that will help you with any feeding challenges, from picky eaters to eating disorders, and more. Additionally, I'm excited to share recipes that are perfect for families.

    I can't wait to share this journey with you. If you need extra assistance, please contact me today and we can explore ways to work together.

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