Parents have been picking my brain about how to handle their picky eaters. Let me chew on this topic for a while and provide more than a mouthful of information.

Recent studies suggest that more than a quarter of three-year-olds are picky eaters. In most cases, a parent will offer a new food 10-15 times before a normal eater will try it. Just imagine trying that with a picky little one.

Luckily for parents, even a picky eater can get all necessary nutrients from the foods that they do eat. For example, some children won’t eat vegetables, but will eat fruit. The fruit will usually provide all the vitamins they need. There’s no need to make veggies a family food battle. You might also offer your toddler a choice between two vegetables. If the rest of the family eats the chosen vegetable, your toddler will too.

If you are worried that your child will not eat red meat and become iron deficient as a result, don’t worry. Many other foods that your child may enjoy contain plenty of iron. These include raisins, some green leafy vegetables, eggs, certain fish and poultry.

And milk is not the only way to build strong bones. There is calcium in yogurt, cheese, broccoli, and even calcium-fortified juices. As we’ve discussed in the past, juice intake should be limited. It has a high sugar content and can decrease your child’s appetite for more nutritious foods.

As to vitamins, it is doubtful your child, if otherwise healthy, really needs them. It may give you, as a parent, piece of mind to give your child a multivitamin. And if it can result in your not engaging in food battles with your picky eater, that’s great.

Let’s talk about food battles for a moment. First, don’t use bribes to encourage eating. Offering a cookie in return for eating vegetables only makes the less nutritious food more desirable to a toddler. It rarely fixes a picky eater.

A better idea is to eat what your child eats, when your child eats. Also, serving small portions on large plates to a toddler goes down better than large portions on small plates. Here’s a personal favorite: when your child sees friends eating a new food, they will probably try that food too. (Even when they won’t do it for you, of course.)

Hopefully, tips like these will whet your appetite when dealing with the normal developmental phase of picky eating.

Dr. Lewis First is chief of pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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