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As important as meal time is, it can also be a frustrating one for parents. You put tons of thought and time into meal planning and preparation with the result sometimes ending with a full-plate, an unhappy child, and frustration on your end.

For childcare providers, children are not as happy when they are hungry and sometimes there are not any alternatives for the meal that is being provided.  Penn State Extension provides some great tips for encouraging picky eaters to try new foods, and ways for both parents and child care providers to remain positive and persistent when trying to help a picky eater. Here are some of those tips:

Keep trying, if at first you don’t succeed try again. Many times children need to be introduced to food up to 10 or 15 times before they begin to like it.

Be a role model, parents and child providers must be willing to try the new foods that the children are being introduced too. Imitation is a wonderful thing, and often time’s children will want to mimic what you are doing; even if this means trying a food they did not previously like.

Unfamiliar with familiar, make sure to serve the unfamiliar foods with something that they like. This is likely to increase the likelihood that the children will try the new food. However, children should still be expected to eat the food the rest of the family or class is eating.

Read stories about food, if the food is introduced to the children through a story prior to eating it, they may be more inclined to try it.

Let children help select the menu, If the children are able to help select, or even make the foods that are being served they are less likely to reject them.

You can lead them to a new food, but you can’t make them eat it, never force children to try a new food. Just take it away and present it at a different time.

Relax and have fun! Focus all of the attention on the positive eating habits that the children do have and not on the food.

In addition to offering nutritional improvements, meal time also offers children educational and socialization benefits. Educationally, teachers and parents use this time to talk about the pros of healthy eating and the effects it has on our bodies. Socially, it offers children a chance to speak with their peers, teachers, and parents.