Some kids will eat anything you put in front of them, whether it's a meal from a fast food place with golden arches or a sushi dinner. Other kids struggle with eating the same meal that's been placed in front of them more than a dozen times. The funniest part? All too often, these children are members of the same family! Encouraging well-balanced meals and dealing with picky eaters is a challenge that many parents find overwhelming.
Remember that meat isn't the only source of protein
Small children, in particular, may struggle to eat meat--especially if it isn't shaped like a nugget and deep-fried. Instead of trying to force a meat-filled main dish on them, look for alternatives. Eggs, beans, and dairy are great sources of protein that might be easier for picky eaters to get down. If allergies aren't a concern, nuts and nut butters are also an excellent choice.
It takes kids a while to come around to new foods. The first time you put something new on their plates, you're probably not going to get the most favorable reaction. Keep offering it! Eventually, your picky little one will probably be willing to at least give it a taste.
Start out with a couple of bites
Have you ever been at a family gathering where a grandparent or other well-meaning relative--perhaps a least favorite aunt--dumped an overflowing load of your least favorite food right in the middle of your plate? Even as an adult, you probably struggled to deal with it--and chances are, even if you managed a bite or two, you didn't finish off a giant-sized portion. Put just a taste of new foods on your child's plate. They can always come back for seconds if it turns out to be their new favorite!
Provide something at every meal that you know your picky child will eat
There's nothing worse for a child than sitting down at a table filled with things that they don't want to eat. Many children already know that there's going to be a fight over the food, and they come to the table braced for trouble. Instead of creating problems, make sure that there's something on the table that your child will want to eat. You don't want them to go to bed hungry, especially if your picky eater is also a high-needs child in other ways: a hungry child is one who will struggle more with regulating their behavior or otherwise acting out.
Don't turn it into a battle
The more you fight your child over the food they're eating, the more stubborn they're likely to become. Instead, provide a variety of foods--old favorites, new recipes, and a selection from a variety of different food groups--and allow your child to choose from those. You don't have to give seconds of their favorites if they're refusing to eat other things on their plate, but don't dangle a treat overhead, either. In fact, some experts now recommend making dessert just another part of the meal. Too much dissent over what your child is or isn't eating can lead to further issues with food later in life.
Rule out bigger issues
Some so-called picky eaters aren't being picky just to irritate (though it might seem that way at times). Rather, they're struggling with texture issues or experiencing difficulty swallowing certain types of food. Before you get frustrated with your child, make sure you understand why they're choosing not to eat those foods. If it's just because it's "yucky," there's no harm in continuing to try. On the other hand, if a yogurt-like texture makes your child gag every time it goes near them, it might be worth looking into other problems.
Getting a picky eater to eat a well-balanced meal can be a challenge, but don't despair! Stick with it, be patient, and keep offering food that you know your child will eat, even if it seems that he has one color palate: brown. The odds are good that your child will grow into a well-adjusted adult who eats their vegetables and doesn't eat pizza or chicken nuggets for every meal...even if they still don't like broccoli.