Picky Eaters and Serving Sizes

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Some children have a short list of foods they will eat others simply refuse to try new foods. Here are some quick answers to some common questions about feeding children.

What if my child eats only a handful of foods?

Children who eat only a few select foods will miss out on some important nutrients.  

  • Continue to offer their favourite foods as long as they are nutritious.
  • Build up their list of acceptable foods by adding a few new foods each day or week. For example, if they always want a cheese sandwich for lunch offer them this but change the vegetables, fruit or soups you serve with it.
  • Encourage your child to try something different once or twice a week.

How can I get my child to try new foods?

Children need to see a new food many times before they will actually accept and eat it.

  • Have your child try "one bite". This can help increase comfort and acceptance of new foods. Avoid force-feeding or offering a reward for tasting new foods.  
  • Eating with parents, siblings or friends who are enjoying new foods can help increase acceptance.
  • Involve your child in making a meal.

My child snacks all day and then won't eat supper – what can I do?

Children, especially young ones need a healthy meal or snack about every 3 to 4 hours to keep them energized.

  • Offer healthy snacks at least one to two hours before meals.   Closer to meal times offer a plate of cut up fruit or raw vegetable sticks.
  • Avoid high fat chips, cookies or other baked goods before meals.

What kinds of foods are best for snacks?

For healthy growth and development, the best snacks are foods from one of the four food groups in Eating Well with Canada's Food Guide.

  • Offer healthy choices such as vegetables and fruit, whole grain bread, buns or bagels, low sugar cereals, whole grain crackers, milk, yogurt, cheese or hard boiled eggs.
  • Avoid foods that are low in nutrients and high in calories, fat, sugar or salt.
  • Offer water to satisfy thirst.   Avoid sugary beverages. 

How can I get my child to eat more vegetables and fruit?

Here are a few creative strategies to get them to eat more vegetables and fruit:

  • Serve raw vegetables with a low fat salad dressing.
  • Cut up melon cubes and wash grapes and store in re-sealable containers.
  • Use frozen berries, ripe bananas, or canned peaches in smoothies or add fresh or dried fruit to cereal or as a yogurt topping.
  • Grate carrots and zucchini and add to salads, pasta sauce, pita or wrapped sandwiches.
  • Add frozen green peas or baby carrots to chicken noodle soup.
  • Add single-serve containers of fruit into lunch boxes such as unsweetened applesauce, canned peaches or pears, mandarin oranges or pineapple bits.
  • Choose 100% fruit juice (not fruit drinks or cocktails) and limit amount to 125 - 250 mL (1/2 - 1 cup) per day.

My child eats a lot of bread and cereal is that okay?

That depends on your child's age:

  • 2-3 years old should have 3 daily servings of grains
  • 4-8 year olds should have 4 daily servings of grains
  • 9-13 year olds should have 6 daily servings of grains

A serving is:

  • 1 slice of bread
  • 1/2 bagel, bun or pita
  • 30 grams of cold cereal
  • 175 mL (3/4 cup) of cooked cereal
  • 125 mL (1/2 cup) of cooked pasta or rice

What can I do if my child won't eat meat?

Nutrient-packed foods such as eggs, beans, peas, lentils, nuts and seeds, tofu and fortified meat alternatives can take the place of meat. A serving of meat alternatives is:

  • 2 eggs
  • 175 mL (3/4 cup) of beans
  • 150 g, or 175 mL of 3/4 cup tofu
  • 30 mL (2 tbsp) of peanut butter
  • 60 mL (1/4 cup) nuts and seeds
  • 175 mL (3/4 cup) hummus

Children 2-8 years old should have 1 serving and children 9-13 years old should have 1-2 servings of meat and alternatives a day.

Source: EatRight Ontario
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