Ask Ginger: How to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits
You've got questions ... we’ve got answers! Email your queries about healthy foods, physical activity and screen time for kids and Ginger will answer them here on the Phipps blog.
Q: My toddler only wants to eat chocolate candy and drink juice. Do you have any suggestions on how to divert her attention from not so good foods and make healthy food more appealing? When I’m eating healthy food and offer it to her she says, “No thanks mommy!” (Kelsey, Perrysville)
A: Great question! Introducing new foods to your child can be challenging. Picky or choosy eating is a common behavior for many children between the ages of 2 and 5.1 It is important to keep an open mind and stay positive when it comes to your child’s eating habits. Using positive and encouraging language will make the experience better for your child and you! View one of our resources here that explains how to use positive language with your choosy eaters. Some other things to remember are:3
- Never force your child to eat a food he/she is hesitant to try. It may lead them to have a negative response to the food before ever trying it.
- Do not make special meals for different family members. This prevents kids from trying new foods and causes more stress on the cook.
- Keep offering the food and prepare it in a variety of ways! Your child may not like sliced tomatoes on their sandwiches, but what about tomato sauce? Or diced up small in a salad or in quinoa?
- Applaud your child for trying new foods. The positive reinforcement may encourage the child to try even more new foods!
Other than your language, there are many different things you can do to encourage your child to try new foods. For example:1
- Bring your child to the grocery store and let him/her choose a new type of produce to try.
- Have your child help you prepare the meals. He/she may be more likely to try it!
- Offer choices rather than a single option. For example, ask “Would you like carrots or peas for dinner?” rather than “Do you want carrots with your dinner?”
- Eat together as a family. If your child sees family members eating new foods, he/she will be more likely to try them too!
- Start out with small portions of new foods as your child cultivates a taste for the new food.
- Most importantly, don’t give up! Children need to be exposed to new foods at least 10 times before they can decide if they like it or not.3
You can also try to make food fun by cutting foods into fun shapes with cookie cutters or encouraging children to invent their own creative snacks! If your child helps you create a meal or side in the kitchen, give it a fun name or include your child’s name to celebrate what he/she has made! Get some ideas here or check out our Pinterest board for healthy and fun snacks and meals!
In the meantime, remember that your child's eating habits won't change overnight, but taking small steps each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.2 If you think your child’s choosy eating is affecting growth or nutrition, be sure to consult your child’s doctor.1