Surviving Picky Eating
By: Rayyan Anwer MD FAAP
Picky eating typical presents in the toddler years especially as you approach the infamous terrible twos. These behaviors are a normal expression of a toddler learning to express their will. Showing preference to one food over another can begin even at the inception of food training (generally between 4-6 months depending on the infant), but intolerance to multiple textures and groups of foods, warrants an investigation by your pediatrician.
As children approach the toddler stage their “favorite food one day may hit the floor the next, or a snubbed food might suddenly become the one he or she can’t get enough of. For weeks, they may eat 1 or 2 preferred foods – and nothing else.” Parental frustrations may run high but try to be as calm about it as you possibly can. Come up with a uniform plan amongst all care givers.
- Make healthy food choices available and know that, with time, your child’s appetite and eating behaviors will level out. During this time winning is staying steadfast with reinforcing routines and good eating habits.
- Have good meal routines with set times for meals as well as eating together as a family whenever possible.
- Refrain from “media distractions like TV or cell phones at mealtime.”
- Model healthy eating. Remember children “do as you do” more often than “do as you say”.
- Resist the urge to make another meal if your child refuses what you’ve served. This only encourages picky eating.
- Provide a balanced meal, when possible, whether your child eats it or not.
- If your toddler refuses a meal, avoid fussing over it. It’s good for children to learn to listen to their bodies and use hunger as a guide. It is not beneficial to chase after them.
- Avoid using treats to encourage your toddlers to eat their meal. This can make the “prize” food even more exciting, and the food you want them to try an unpleasant chore.
Just because a child refuses a food once, don’t give up. Keep offering new foods and those your child didn’t like before. It can take as many as 10 or more times tasting a food before a toddler’s taste buds accept it. Limiting snacks during non-scheduled mealtimes can help ensure your child is hungry when a new food is introduced. Encourage a variety of healthy foods, especially vegetables, fruits, and protein rich foods. Help your child explore new flavors and textures in food.
Generally toddlers and young children do better when you give them two choices, for example, “would you like to eat Broccoli and cheese or rice and beans?” as supposed to “please eat your broccoli”. More choices than that can result in food fights. If after that they choose not to eat either option, one tip is to say “when you are ready to eat, you can have the same two choices”. During this time, avoid allowing access to any other nutrition other than acceptable amounts of water. Usually once their own hunger mechanisms kick in they will proceed to try one of the choices you presented. Warning this may result in a tantrum, for which you can kindly reiterate when you are ready to eat, you can have the same two choices. Then proceed to the gently pretending to ignore the tantrum technique.
To minimize waste, offer new foods in small amounts and wait at least a week or two before reintroducing the same food. Cut solid foods into bite size pieces they can easily eat themselves, making sure the pieces are small enough to avoid the risk of choking. Of course, these are general tips and anything out of the ordinary warrants a discussion with your pediatrician.
For additional support and help with your picky eater, give us a call at 407-566-9700 to scheudle an appointment. We are here to help!
A summary of guidelines taken from the AAP’s Committee on Nutrition presented as “10 Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters“ online at https://www.healthychildren.org/.