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Rethink Your Meal Strategies

Between meals, analyze clues that may cause your child's pickiness.

Is the TV on? Adults tend to overeat when they're watching TV, but that's not true for picky children. Research shows that kids who watch television during meals can become overstimulated, making it harder for them to try new foods.

Is the whole family eating together? Children may be more likely to relax and try new flavors if everyone else is enjoying the same meal. "It makes a world of difference for our family," says Elizabeth Johnson Willard of St. Johnsbury, Vt., whose children shunned most meats, fruits, and vegetables when they were very young. "Seeing us try new foods helps encourage our children to do the same."

A child who eats alone may also sense your anxiety about their pickiness. "The parent hovers over every bite the child takes, which doesn't help," Piette says.

Are you setting a good example? Taste at least a little bit of everything that's served, and show a good attitude about it. "Kids are smart," Piette says. "They can tell by the look on your face."

Re-Do Dinner

When you introduce new foods, an offbeat tactic may help:

Let them eat cake . Don't offer dessert as a reward for eating vegetables. That sends the wrong message. If dessert is on the menu, consider serving it with the meal, instead of at the end.

Emphasize style. Entice a picky eater to try a fruit salad by arranging it into a smiley face. Christen Cooper of Pleasantville, N.Y., realized that her then-3-year-old daughter would try almost anything served on her princess tea set.  

Show interest in their interests. Did your son's favorite character eat carrots and string beans? Offer the same foods. This trick worked for Leigh Steere of Boulder, Colo., whose son tried new foods when the recipes came from a Star Wars cookbook.

Encourage food play. Little fingers poking at dinner can help kids get used to food textures, which are sometimes bigger stumbling blocks than flavors for picky eaters. "Parents should be tolerant of the messiness," Piette says. "It does help. It's a sensory thing."