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Health & Pregnancy

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Parenting the Picky Eater

Why Johnny won't eat
WebMD Feature

Three-year-old Brandon may grow up to be the next great culinary critic. He knows exactly what the consistency of macaroni and cheese must be, that hot dogs cannot have grill lines on them, and that corn must never be served with the juice. While his mother Melissa is happy that Brandon knows how to communicate what he wants, she is less than pleased when he chooses to do so -- loudly -- in the middle of a crowded restaurant.

Catharine's little gourmet, Fenner, has a different issue. She wants to eat the same 10-15 foods over and over and over. Fenner basically lives on Fig Newtons, peanut butter sandwiches, and fortified cereal. Fruits and vegetables? No, thank you -- not this 3-year-old. To her mom's dismay, little sister Ellen seems to be following in Fenner's finicky footsteps.

While their experiences are common, the solutions are much debated. Over the ages parents have tried everything from "You'll sit there until you finish every bite on your plate" to "What do you want for dinner, darling, ice cream or carrots?" The answer, says Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association, lies somewhere in between those two extremes. Ward and other experts offer parents the following menu of pick-and-choose advice to broadening their child's food horizons.

Avoid the Power Struggle

One of the surest ways to win the battle but lose the war is to engage in a power struggle with your child over food, says Jody Johnston Pawel, LSW, CFLE, author of the book The Parent's Toolshop. With power struggles you are saying, "Do it because I'm the parent" and that's a rationale that won't work long, she says. But if your child understands the why behind the rules, those values can lay the groundwork for a lifetime of sound food choices, whether you are there to enforce them or not, she says.

Let Kids Participate

Get a stepstool and ask your kids to lend a hand in the kitchen with easy tasks, says Sal Severe, PhD, author of the book How to Behave So Your Children Will, Too.

"If they participate in helping to make the meal, they are more likely to want to try it," he says. It's also a great way to put the ball back in the child's court when it comes to food preferences like Brandon's, says Johnston Pawel. "Let him help drain the corn or pour the milk into the macaroni and cheese. Then he is taking responsibility for his preferences."

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