How to help make your child a more adventurous eater

Amita Health shared in the Daily Herald Newspaper that some kids seem to eat just about everything, while others are picky eaters.

Your first concern is to make sure your children are eating a healthy, nutritious diet, of course. But what if you also would like to add a little variety to your family meals? There are several things you can do to encourage your child to be a more adventurous eater.

First, start early, according to Dr. Joni Hamilton, a pediatrician and adolescent medicine specialist with Children & Teens Medical Center in Algonquin and on staff at Amita Health St. Alexius Medical Center Hoffman Estates.

“Start at a young age exposing them to different tastes and textures,” she said.

Popular “kid-friendly” meals, especially those offered by restaurants, are usually boring and rarely nutritious, and there is no need to make special meals for kids unless they have allergies or some other dietary restrictions.

“Kids can eat everything that adults can eat,” Hamilton said.

You also should include young children in meal planning and preparation, so that they feel more empowered in making their own food choices.

“From toddler age, kids can get involved in things like grocery shopping and helping to choose foods at the store. Then, while you are cooking, you can give them little chores in the kitchen like washing vegetables,” Hamilton said.

She suggested that if there are foods they like, try mixing new foods in with the old favorites. For example, if your child likes rice, add some peas or other vegetables. Children will be more likely to eat the vegetables mixed in with a food they already like that they would be to eat the vegetables by themselves. Once they are familiar with the add-ins, you can serve them separately.

Parents should listen to the way they talk about food. “Don’t talk in a negative way about foods,” Hamilton said. If you talk about foods you dislike, kids can pick up on that.

Similarly, don’t talk to other people about the foods your child doesn’t like. Don’t say, “Oh he never eats beans.” Instead, be positive and encouraging about all foods, and be open to trying new foods yourself.

Set a good example at mealtime by serving and eating a variety of foods. It also can help to eat together as a family, because children can get caught up in the family interplay at the table and pay less attention to being suspicious of what they are eating.

Make sure they are hungry at meals.

“If you have a picky eater, limit snacks between meals, especially food that is not nutritious,” Hamilton said. “And limit juice and milk, which can fill children up so that they are not hungry for food.”

Explain to your children that trying new foods is an indication that they are growing up. Remind them that when they were babies, they only drank milk. But now that they are older, there are lots of new and delicious foods they can taste.

Finally, be patient. Research shows that children might have to be offered a new food as many as 10 times before they accept it.

“Don’t give up as a parent,” Hamilton said. “Just keep exposing them to new food and encouraging them to try it. Every day is a new day.”

• Children’s health is a continuing series. This week’s article is courtesy of Amita Health, which is comprised of 19 hospitals and more than 230 sites of care, including Amita Health Alexian Brothers Women & Children’s Hospital Hoffman Estates. Amita Health has 900 providers in its medical groups, more than 26,000 associates, and 7,000 physician partners and serves over 4.3 million residents in the greater Chicago area. For more information about Amita Health’s pediatric programs, visit www.amitahealth.org/services/pediatrics.

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