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How To Handle Picky Eaters

Picky eating is a common cause of grief and concern for parents of young children. In fact, research shows that 20% to 50% of parents perceive their children to be picky eaters.

After a long day, the last thing parents want to do is battle with a picky eater at the dinner table. Here’s how to handle picky eaters.

1. Use Foods Your Child Already Likes

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So your child loves carrots, but doesn’t like broccoli. Don’t force the issue; instead, add the food your child likes into other foods. For example, use shredded carrot in tomato sauce, or in muffins. Also, try introducing healthier elements into dishes your child already likes. Homemade pizza? Add cheddar cheese that your child loves, instead of mozzarella. Slice some strawberries into his favorite cereal.

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2. Get Your Child Involved

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Encourage your child to help you shop for groceries, and prepare meals. Allow your child to choose fruits and vegetables they like at the grocery store; they are more likely to eat them if they have picked them out themselves. When preparing meals, give your child an apron or chef’s hat and allow them help you rinse fruits and vegetables, add spices to a dish, or stir the pot (with your help, of course). Bake muffins and cookies together when time allows. If they feel they’ve helped prepare a meal, they’re more likely to eat it.

3. Keep Offering Healthy Choices

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Registered dietitian Roxanne Laughlin says it can take eight to 15 tastes or exposures before kids will actually accept something new to eat. Show encouragement when serving new foods, but do not force them to try.

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Have healthy finger foods available, such as fresh fruit and veggies, such as carrots and celery sticks and apple slices. Put the broccoli and salad on the table, even if your child doesn’t like it – eventually one day, he/she will try it!

4. Don’t Force It

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Time to ditch the “finish your plate” rule we remember as kids. When children are full, they will not keep eating and parents shouldn't force them to eat every last bite. A 2015 review of studies that date back to the 1990s found that fussy, picky or choosy eating habits were linked to personality traits, social influences, and parental control at mealtime.

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Instead of continuing a power struggle at the dining table, try a different approach. If a child hasn’t eaten enough of his meal, try compromising; ask your child to have a certain amount of bites before he’s officially off the hook.

5. Cook Only One Meal

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Prepare one meal for dinner. If a child doesn’t like something about it, let them pick it out of the dish. Making them a separate meal encourages picky eating, and you’re not a short-order cook! If children know that you will make them something they enjoy instead of what is being served, they are less willing to try the meal on the table.

6. Set A Good Example

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You can’t expect your child to eat spinach if you don’t have any your own plate. The best way to influence kids is by example. It also helps if you avoid the cookies and chips aisle at the grocery store. If the chips and cookies aren’t around, your kids can’t eat them. Keep a good variety of healthy foods on hand for when hunger strikes… but…

7. Schedule Snack Time

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Often, many kids are eating too many snacks that they’re already full by dinnertime. Don’t expect your child to eat a full meal at dinner if he’s been grazing all day. Also, make sure that snacks are healthy, and incorporate two food groups. For example, peanut butter and celery sticks, hummus and carrots, or cheese with whole-grain crackers.

8. Allow Your Child To Have Dessert Too!

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Don’t cut out treats altogether - everything in moderation is a good lesson to teach your children early on. Don’t forbid desserts or candy – it’s OK to have the ice cream. If you cut out all the treats you’re your child’s diet, kids will more likely to overeat when they are allowed.

RELATED: This Handy Chart Shows How You Should Be Portioning Your Meals

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