As your child turns 2 years old, you might notice his pickiness seems to only be increasing. For some parents, myself included, it started much earlier. I worried my twins were not eating enough and not getting the right mix of nutrition to grow up big and strong. Can you relate?
Do you consider your child to be an under eater? Are you worried about your child’s weight gain or if he is eating enough of the right foods?
Worried Your Child Isn’t Eating Enough?
We start to take short cuts! And we make it worse.
We start to offer them less and less variety of food for fear they will turn their noses up at the meal. We start to stick to the few foods that we know they will eat, like chicken nuggets, yogurt, pizza, etc. It becomes a vicious cycle.
You start to worry more and more about their eating because they are eating such a small variety of food. They see your worry and take advantage of it by exerting more and more control over you. This then becomes a habit that is hard to break.
It’s NOT impossible. Our picky eating guide will walk you through all the steps you should work on to change your child from a rigid picky eater to an adventurous eater. In this article, we’ll cover how to get your under eater to eat more.
We are often serving our child portions that are too large and then get frustrated when they don’t make a dent in the food we gave them. It actually has a name and it is called portion distortion. Check out what healthy portions look like by age group.
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Here are Tips to Get Your Under Eater to Eat More:
Serve Small Portions
Larger portions can overwhelm under-eaters. You can always serve more food to them, but remember to keep it small portions.
Allow Your Child to Serve Himself
If your child is a little older, encourage him to serve himself and make it fun. By allowing your child to serve himself gives him a sense of control and can be more accepting of trying new foods.
Don’t Get in a Power Struggle
Many under eater are fighting for more control over the dinner table. Toddlers and pre-schoolers are told what to do so much of the day that they tend to try to assert control over what they eat. How much and what they eat is generally the only thing they can control.
No More Short Order Cooking
Stop the insanity and stop being a short-order cook from this day forward. Offer children one food at each meal that you know will like, a safe food, and then serve what the rest of the family is eating. No exceptions. Take the fight out of eating. Providing one safe item at a meal will take the pressure off eating the new food.
Don’t Give In
It is so common for parents to give into their child’s eating demands and serve their child something you know he will eat.
Then this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your child quickly learns that you will give in and serve him what he wants if he puts up a fight.
Don’t reinforce this behavior by giving into their demands. Don’t negotiate with terrorists 🙂 Ha, all kidding aside… In my home, if my twins eat a bad lunch then I know they will eat a bigger dinner. If I gave my twins cheese sticks and chicken nuggets then they would not be as motivated to eat a healthy dinner later on. If one meal isn’t great, then the next one will probably be better!
Take the Pressure Off Mealtimes
“A typical toddler will eat less in those moments you want so desperately for him to eat more,” according to Kate Samela author of Gives Peas a Chance. When you pressure a picky eater to eat, it actually makes him even pickier and often eat less.
Picky eaters notice when you are stressed out about their eating. Do your best not to show that you’re stressed about their undereating.
Once you’ve rolled out these changes, check out other tips on how to get your picky eater to eat and eat well.
Start offering vegetables and fruits at snack time to get your child to be more adventurous. He will eventually try the foods. Study after study shows the value of continued food exposure to get kids to try and LIKE the food. It can take 10 or more exposure times before they even try the food for the first time and then it can take another 10 times of trying the food before they acquire a taste for it. Sometimes kids have to try a new food 10 or more times before they like it. Yes, they can spit it out nine or more times.
Don’t give up! This does NOT mean they will never like it! A child’s taste buds are still developing and need your help to develop a taste for healthy, nutritious foods.
Watch Snacking Do’s and Don’ts for Kids
Reset Your Expectations
We are often serving our child portions that are too large and then get frustrated when they don’t make a dent in the food we gave them. It actually has a name and it is called portion distortion.
When I was trying to figure out how much my twins should be eating, I went to Youtube to see what other parents were doing. Oh my goodness, some of these 14-month-olds were eating larger portions than I eat.
Each child is different! And, remember it’s not about the amount of food your child eats, but it is more about how nutritious the food you are serving is. A lot of children binge on empty calories, offering their growing bodies very little nutrition.
Worried your child is an overeater even if he or she is a picky eater?
A toddler’s stomach is about the same size as his clenched first (Martins, 2002).
There are studies that show our expectations of what kids need to eat are misaligned with actual appropriate serving sizes for kids.
Some Kids Just Eat More Than Other Kids
We are all different. Some of us eat more than others and that is ok! If you are concerned your child is an under eater, it is even more important you focus on serving nutrient dense foods. This way the amount of food your child eats is not as important because the food choices are more nutritious.
Another way to look at it, try to avoid empty calorie snacks and meals.
Make Your Meals More Nutritious
If you are concerned your child isn’t eating enough then please cut out the empty calories from their diets! This means no more Goldfish crackers, Ritz crackers, and most other packaged snacks. These foods are filled with tons of unhealthy ingredients and virtually no nutrients. Read this article to find out what your child should be eating instead.
How can food marketed to children be so void of nutrition? I ask myself that same question every day! I hope through our efforts, we can change that.
Check out our article on how to read nutrition labels to find out how food manufacturers are being sneaky and labeling ingredients by new names so you don’t know what inside of it.
Did you know mac and cheese, chicken nuggets and other “kid food” are considered empty calories? I know you’re thinking than what would my kid be eating?
Our video series walks through a variety of strategies to get your child to eat a larger variety of foods that are healthier for him or her, so please check those out! We are here to help you every step of the way! Here are some recipes for healthier versions of kid food.
Check out our bean pasta video. There are pastas made from 100% beans! What kid doesn’t need to eat more legumes (beans)? And adults too!
Are You Familiar with Superfoods?
Add some superfoods to your child’s favorite foods without a lot of extra effort. Check out that article as we list our favorite super nutritious add-ins. You can sprinkle nutritional yeast on top of the food you are already making for your kids. For example, add some nutritional yeast to popcorn or mac and cheese. I add flax seed to almost everything. It’s high in fiber and tons of other healthy benefits.
We are working on an entire series of article and videos on how to add more nutrients to the food your kids are already eating so make sure you subscribe to Feeding My Kid’s Youtube channel.
Check out our bean pasta video.
What is Their Job vs Your Job As It Relates to Eating
Toddlers are amazing at self-regulating their portions as long as there are healthy options to choose from. It’s your job to offer healthy mealtime options and it’s their job to eat the food being offered. They shouldn’t be telling you what to cook and you shouldn’t be telling them what to eat.
If you haven’t been offering a lot of healthy choices there is always time to change a habit. Check out all of our recipe articles. We have hundreds of healthy recipes to help you.
Try Making Dinnertime Earlier Or Later
Also, depending on how young your children are, you may want to consider moving dinner up to 4:30-5 pm. I know that’s incredibly challenging for many working families. At times, young children are just too tired to have a successful meal at 5:30-6 pm. You might want to consider feeding your child earlier and then having him or her sit down with you at your dinnertime to enjoy the family time at the table. Maybe he or she can color or play in their high chairs or eat a healthy snack while the rest of the family eats dinner. Try changing up the dinner times until you find a time that works best for them to eat.
Maybe you need to move dinnertime back a little so your child gets hungry before a meal.
Constipation Can Affect Your Child’s Appetite
If kids are not regularly going to the bathroom, then they are more likely to under eat because of their constipation. Most kids need to go #2 once a day or every other day. If your child is suffering from constipation, check out our forum board on how to help. A huge percentage of children suffer from constipation because of their diet and not drinking enough water. Constipation can contribute to your child’s under eating. Get high fiber recipes to beat constipation and breakfast recipes.
Watch This Video for Tips on How to Overcome Constipation in Kids
Be An Eating Role Model
Model the behavior you want for your kids. Don’t show your dislike of certain foods and try to cook and eat a large variety of foods yourself. Kids need constant exposure to new foods and various preparations of foods. Read more about this.
Don’t Do the Dessert Deal
Don’t use dessert as a reward for taking another bite of green beans <insert all types of other foods in replace of green beans>. Don’t do it! Studies show that kids actually eat less when they negotiate over dessert. This can definitely be contributing to why you have an under-eater.
Check out why the dessert deal is a bad deal for you and your kids. Truly, don’t use food as a reward or punishment!
Find Out Some of the Unintended Consequences of Rewarding Kids with Food
It’s A Hard Battle Ahead, But It’s Worth The Fight
You are instilling life-long healthy habits for your child’s experience with food. Food is a huge part of our society and it’s better to work hard now to teach healthy habits that will truly last a lifetime. We are here to help you every step of the way!