Picky eater in the family? We can help!

Jordana Ventzke, dietician and nutritionist at Dubai’s Infinity The Family Medicine Clinic, shares her nutrition tips and tricks for handling meal times with fuss tots
Nutrition, Family Matters, Family, Children
August 04, 2018

As most parents know, getting your kids to eat enough greens can be a bit of a challenge - but it's not just veggies that can result in protests. If your child is a picky eater, it can be just as difficult to ensure they're getting the right nutrition in. Thankfully, Jordana has a few expert tricks up her sleeve... 

Why do kids tend to be fussy eaters? 
One reason stems from the way in which we introduce solid foods to children. Babies are sometimes allowed to eat purées for too long, so they don’t actually learn how to eat. It is also possible that a medical condition could be the cause of the problem.

Can picky eating also be an age thing? 
It is definitely age-related and tends to start between the ages of two and three. Kids this age are starting to be much more mobile and eating takes time away from their exploring. They also want to demonstrate their independence at this age, and refusing food is an easy way to do that.

What foods do kids tend to avoid?
Children tend to reject vegetables. Fruit is normally one of the first foods introduced at weaning age, which promotes sweet taste bud development, but this results in kids not having a taste for vegetables. Also, adults tend not to eat enough vegetables and kids learn from that.

How many times should you try introducing a food before giving up?
This is a scary number, but 47 times. It can take this amount of exposure before a child is willing to even try a new food. The trick is never to force the issue, but rather to keep on exposing them to the food and eventually they will try it.

How should a new food be introduced?
Start small – if you are introducing peas, place three, not a whole spoonful, on the plate. And try not to make a big deal about the new food.Go to the shops with your children and let them choose a new food, then cook it and enjoy it together. We tend not to eat together enough as families. Children learn by example, yet they are often left to eat by themselves.

To make sure kids don’t miss out on important nutrition, should we be ‘sneaking’ different foods into a meal?
Ideally, you don’t want to hide foods because your kids need to learn to eat them. But in order to reach nutritional requirements, occasionally we have to. When sneaking food in, still put a piece of that food in sight on the plate.

What suggestions do you have for getting kids to eat meat, vegetables and dairy products?
Meat is quite a tough one to sneak in. Make foods that you know children will like, such as chicken nuggets, but use real chicken. Sneaking vegetables into meals is easier because you can finely chop or blend them into dishes. You can also try vegetables on a snack platter. Milk is not as important as people tend to think. From the age of one, we only need two dairy servings a day. You can add milk products into soups or stews.

What are your thoughts on using bribes to encourage kids to eat?
Food should never be offered as a reward – it just creates more hype around the treat food.

Jordana's Tips

1. Don’t offer an alternative
If they don’t want to eat what is offered, then they don’t eat. This is difficult for parents, but your child will eat when they are hungry.

2. Put a time limit on meals
Mealtime should be maximum of 30 minutes. If they haven’t eaten or finished their meal when that time is up, they can eat again at the next scheduled meal.

3. Cut down on portion size
Offer a smaller plate and have your child ask for more rather than dishing up too much to begin with.

4. Make a grazing tray
Place snacks within easy reach of kids while they are playing – especially for little ones who want to explore.

5. Never force them to eat
If they don’t want to eat, leave them. Forcing them will create more of an issue.

Don’t miss Jordana’s monthly workshops on Introducing Solids and Fussy Eaters. Visit ihcdubai.com.