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Nutrition Notes With Ilana Muhlstein—Quick Tips For Feeding Picky Eaters

Avocados and tomatoes are part of a healthy snack.

Posted: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 – 1:07 PM

I love helping picky eaters, because when people are more easy going, it makes everyone’s life easier too. Here are a few of my best tips for going from picky to progressive. The more effort you put in to this now, the more effortless it will become later on. So be patient, positive and persistent; and we can all welcome a more relaxed and purposeful eating experience. 

Additional Principles for Picky Eaters

1. Avoid the Term “Picky Eater” — When you use the term “picky eater,” it can give the person or child permission to be one. And “picky” can be perceived as “ungrateful,” which we would never want. There are so many positive attributes to use like, “smart,” “kind,” and “creative,” that you wouldn’t want to throw a negative label into the mix. If he is more selective or choosy about the foods he eats now, it is likely just a stage. The more open and hopeful you are to that possibility, the more open he or she will be too.

2. Let Your Child Get an Appetite — Snacking throughout the day usually leads to being more choosy at meal times. When kids and adults refuse food, they are usually telling you they are not hungry. Allow them to attain an appetite for meals by reducing the quantity and frequency of snacks between meals. When they are hungry, they will eat.

3. Keep Their Options Small and Simple — Kids like to feel independent and empowered, so work on how you speak to them. Try to stay away from “yes” or “no” questions around mealtimes.  I give my daughter the power to prioritize within food groups and it works great. For example, I let her pick her protein at lunch:  “hard boiled eggs, a cheese stick or turkey slices?” This way “no” isn’t as much of an option. Try asking, “Do you want peppers or cucumbers with your sandwich?” As opposed to, “What do you want for lunch?” The more options you present to them, the more overwhelmed you and they will be. Narrowing down the selections will help streamline your food shopping as well.

4. The More in Sight, The More in Stomach —Keep serving and eating veggies and healthy foods and they will keep processing that that is the right way. Your kids want to be you, and do everything, and have everything you have. When you eat well, your kids will start to also. Even if they are hesitant to try it at first, they will start to learn what appropriate eating looks like, which is a giant leap in the right direction for their growing futures.  

 5. It’s All Out of Love —Every time we eat, it is an opportunity to optimize our growth, fuel our bodies, and prevent us from getting sick. It is okay to tell your child that she cannot have that cookie for dinner. Parents are so scared of saying “no” to their kids, or creating a complex for them around food. But, there needs to be a sense of balance and appropriateness as well. I always say, you wouldn’t let your kid stay up until 2 a.m. on a school night, so why would you let them eat candy first thing in the morning? Feeding your family wholesome foods is an essential part of parenting and that sometimes needs to come with creativity, planning and structure. It won’t likely change overnight, but through positivity, preparation and proper role modeling, you will get there.

Ilana Muhlstein, R.D.N. is a Beverly Hills-based registered dietitian nutritionist. At UCLA she led a benchmark weight loss and health promotion program, titled the Bruin Health Improvement Program (BHIP), and was the dietitian on the hit show Fit to Fat to Fit on A&E.



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