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Wilburn: Parents can keep picky eaters satisfied during holidays
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Question: Thanksgiving and other holiday dinners are coming up, and I wish my 4-year-old would be willing to eat the traditional foods that will be prepared. I worry that she’s still a picky eater and hasn’t been willing to try much beyond macaroni and cheese, cereal, bread and apples. Do you have any tips for what I can do?

Answer: For most preschoolers, picky eating is temporary and will usually end by the time they are school-aged. Young children often want to explore food rather than eat it. It is another step in growing up and becoming independent.

Children may refuse a food based on a certain color or texture. For example, he or she may refuse foods that are red or green, contain seeds or are squishy.  Or, children may only eat a certain type of food.

So, what’s a parent to do? As long as your daughter is healthy with normal height and weight, try to relax and not make too big a deal of it. The more you worry and scold, the bigger a power struggle food can become. Set a good example yourself by enjoying a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Even though your daughter may not show it now, she is noticing your attitudes and observing your good eating habits. Hopefully, she will start to exhibit more of these as she gets older.

Here are a few more tips and ideas you can try during this holiday season:

  • Get your children’s help selecting and making holiday foods. Let them help wash the potatoes or stir the muffin or bread mixes. Let them make decorations for the table and then help set the holiday table.
  • Offer choices. Rather than asking “Do you want mashed potatoes?” ask “Which would you like, mashed potatoes or the winter squash?” Encourage your child to sample the various foods, but don’t force them.
  • Have a few of their favorite foods available. Encourage them to try at least one new food, but don’t worry if they refuse. Teach your child to refuse politely.
  • Serve small portions. Offer your child a smaller plate. Encourage them to select or scoop small amounts of food, saying they can get more if they still feel hungry. They’ll learn new skills and feel “grown up.” Don’t force them to eat all the food on their plate, but rather let their feeling of fullness be their guide.
  • Try to make the holiday meals stress-free and enjoyable. Focus on the enjoyment of conversation and being together with family and friends. Let your child see you and everyone enjoying the appearance, smells and tastes of the various holiday foods.

Source: University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension

Debbie Wilburn is county extension agent in family and consumer science with the Hall County Extension. Contact: 770-535-8290.