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Adults can help children avoid picky eating

By Margie Mansure (

Article Published: Mar. 28, 2013 | Modified: Mar. 28, 2013

Children need a healthy variety of food to thrive and develop good eating habits for life.

I’ve observed many cases where only two or three foods are accepted, such as chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and bread. Some children do have more finicky palates than others. Even so, the role of caregivers in the feeding process sets the stage for what’s acceptable behavior.

Adults are the gatekeepers of food. We are the ones who pay the grocery bill and decide what earns a spot in our cupboards. If a variety of delicious, healthy foods are available, that’s what children will eat. Having little or no junk food around can become an accepted norm for a household.

Meal times should be as predictable as possible, with young children having set snack times in-between. As they become older, only an afterschool or bedtime snack may be desired. Eating time should be pleasant and at the table, preferably with family members. Eating together is when children learn table manners and appropriate behavior at mealtimes. Adults serve as role models.

Children not only mimic manners, but also eating habits. If the adults enjoy healthy meals and snacks with good variety from the beginning, so will their children.

One of the biggest mistakes adults make is offering to be short-order cooks, or allowing children to be. If the child says, “I don’t like this,” and the adult prepares something that was not on the menu, like chicken nuggets, the child is in control at this point and will most likely continue to be.

Offer food in a matter-of-fact way and enjoy it yourself. Encourage your child to try everything, but if she doesn’t, control issues will be avoided if you don’t make a fuss. Including whole grain bread usually ensures that the child will not leave the table hungry. Let them eat what they will at each meal or snack time. Keep in mind that it may take 20 times of exposure for a child to try a new food.

Then, don’t allow anything other than water in between scheduled meal or snack times. Children will not starve themselves and will eventually eat the amount they need. Sometimes they are less interested in eating, and adults get concerned. But unless they are growing at a rate slower than predicted, this is probably just a phase.

My daughter recently stayed with friends and loved this breakfast recipe they prepared. It is an inexpensive, ready-to-eat cereal with plenty of protein, vitamins and minerals from four food groups. You may double or triple the recipe and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Overnight Oats

2 cups oats
2 cups low-fat milk, almond, or soy milk
2 ½ tablespoons nut butter (almond, peanut, cashew, or sunflower)
2 tablespoons natural maple syrup or honey
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
One grated apple, or equivalent applesauce
½ cup dried fruit of choice (cranberries, raisins, mixed fruit pieces)
Nuts of choice for topping
(Makes 4 servings)

Prepare the evening before serving for breakfast in a container with a lid.
Mix together milk, nut butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and sweetener.
Stir in oats and grated apple and place in refrigerator.
Heat in microwave to desired temperature the next morning.
May top with nuts and additional fruit, if desired.

Margie Mansure, M.S., R.D. is a registered dietitian/nutritionist and extension agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension. She offers personalized classes to improve the health of citizens in Watauga County through worksites, schools and community groups. For more information, email, or call (828) 264-3061.

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