Picky eating is a common concern for parents. Sometimes children will eat only one or two favorite foods. Your child may refuse a food because of its color, texture or smell -- or for no reason at all! It’s frustrating. This can be normal toddler behavior and persist into preschool and school-age years.
Parents may be concerned their children aren’t getting the nutrients or calories they need to grow and develop. Meal times can become a battle. Out of frustration, families may start catering to a child’s desires. But this can encourage picky eating!
Often, it’s difficult to predict what a toddler will eat. It changes from meal-to-meal and day-to-day. One day a toddler may have a big appetite, but eat almost nothing the next. This is OK. Children will eat according to their bodies’ needs. While their appetite varies, their total caloric intake remains consistent over a 24-48 hour period.
As long as your child is healthy, growing normally and has plenty of energy, he or she is most likely getting needed nutrients. It’s unlikely a child’s diet is truly deficient. You’ve probably heard it before, but keep in mind it can take up to 15 times before a child accepts a new food.
Eight tips for parents of picky eaters
- Consistently offer a variety of nutritious foods. Don’t cater to picky eaters’ demands.
- Try different colors of foods, presentations, cooking methods, and seasoning/dips. For example, slivered carrots, waffle cut carrots, steamed carrots, shredded carrots, mashed carrots, and/or carrots with dips. Breakfast for dinner is often a hit!
- Provide three different foods per plate and include at least one thing you know they will eat.
- Don’t overwhelm your child. Serve small portions. Let them ask for more.
- Let older children help buy groceries and prepare and cook meals.
- Add foods and nutrients to your child’s favorites: (fruit and vegetable) smoothies, (whole grain) pasta and (veggie-packed) soups.
- Don’t worry about vitamin supplements. Most children don’t need them. Vitamins are often in unlikely sources (like calcium in baked beans) and a number of foods are fortified with key nutrients like iron, vitamin D and calcium.
- Remember, it’s OK if your child occasionally doesn’t seem to eat much at all.
Dos and Don’ts for Meal Time
- Eat together and model enjoyment of variety of foods.
- Let children serve themselves, when possible.
- Offer nutritious food.
- Praise children for trying something different.
- Take a deep breath and practice patience.
- Try to convince a child something tastes good. Instead talk about a food’s color, shape, aroma and texture.
- Force a child to eat. When a child says they don’t like a food say, “You don’t have to eat it.”
- Use dessert as a reward. Instead pick one or two nights a week to offer dessert and choose fruit, yogurt or other healthy, tasty options.
- Encourage overeating. When children say they’ve finished, let them stop eating.
- Give in to frustration.
Remember, you are in charge. This picky eating stage will pass. Continue to offer a wide variety of healthy foods. Children grow into independent individuals with their own tastes, but you can help by modeling healthy eating and providing nutritious options.
If you are concerned, ask for help. If your child eats less than 10 different foods or picky eating is disrupting their everyday life, talk with your pediatrician.