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Kids In The Kitchen, Part 2

Updated on December 30, 2009

Most parents can vouch for the fact that kids are notoriously picky eaters. Parenting online forums abound, full of panicked questions from the parents of kids who subsist on nothing but cheese, toddlers on food jags who will only eat things that are red, kids who won't eat food that is touching any other food, and kids who don't seem to eat at all and must be living on absorbing sunlight.

If your kids seem like they're doing a dramatic reenactment of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" at every meal, it could be because their senses really are more acute than yours, making them sensitive to extremes in flavor and temperature. Another reason for mealtime clashes is a child's growing autonomy. As toddlers and older children learn to become more independent, one of the few things they have control over is what they eat.

Why some kids refuse all food except white-meat chicken nuggets picked clean of breading while other kids will eat anything that's put in front of them is largely a matter of individual preference. No one knows for sure how much of children's likes and dislikes can be attributed to their personalities and how much is due to the foods they are exposed to. But there are some things parents can do to cope with intractable eaters.

Parents play a large role in forming their kids' eating habits, and that there are a number of ways parents can foster good eating habits in their children. Many parents skip breakfast themselves but expect their kids to eat a full meal first thing in the morning. You should also accept that kids have legitimate food likes and dislikes. You might hate tomatoes, so recognize the possibility that your child might feel the same way about broccoli.

Try to offer kids a wide variety of foods. Chances are good that the more foods a child is exposed to, the more foods he will accept. Introduce only one new food at a time. That way, the child can get used to seeing the new food but still have some comfortably familiar choices.

Don't negotiate with food. Offering fast food or treats as incentives for good behavior teaches kids to think of food as a bargaining tool.

Avoid being a short order cook. Always offer at least one item that you know your children will eat, but try to resist making them a peanut butter sandwich every night while the rest of the family eats something else.

Don't attach emotion to food. Don't get angry at children for not eating, or reward them when they do.

Remember that a child's daily requirement for calories is far less than an adult. Don't freak out when your child is only eating a portion of what you're eating. Adult sized portions are gargantuan to children and can lead to a lifetime of obesity!

Above all, make meals a relaxed and enjoyable time when the focus is on family rather than on who is eating what.

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