At your child’s 2-year-old well-child visit with the doctor, your pediatrician asks you, “How is her diet? Is she getting a good balance of fruits and vegetables?” You think about the past few days and what your daughter prefers to eat – hot dogs, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, fruit snacks… sound familiar? Or maybe you think about how many times you offer healthier foods, and she refuses to eat until her next snack or mealtime.
If this speaks to you, rest assured, it’s likely temporary. It doesn’t necessarily mean your child is going to be a picky eater for the rest of their life and their current food preferences are not for lack of trying to offer healthier options. Your child is growing and developing his or her own unique personality and independence which includes being stubborn and particular about what they will and won’t eat. This is normal! According to Erikson’s Stages of Development, children’s independence and autonomy starts to come out around 18 months old. Picky eating is one of the most common ways children try to assert control.
Also happening at this age is the fact a child’s taste palette and preferences can change very quickly. You may notice they eat something one month and then refuse it for months after. It is difficult to keep up with their changing palette as a parent! You may start to wonder if your child is getting the right amount of nutrients he or she needs to stay healthy and achieve their full growth potential.
While it’s important you continue to offer snacks and meals, and healthy options, your pediatrician will make sure your child is growing appropriately at their well-child check-ups. In fact, calories are rarely the issue – most children who are picky eaters will actually end up following their projected growth curves well. And, while this is not a one-size-fits-all answer for your toddler, there are some tried and true methods to help with picky eating.
Tips to help with picky eating
- Eating together with your children is probably the most effective strategy for getting them to try new things. Children innately want to please their parents and this includes wanting to model their own behaviors after mom and dad. If they see their parents eating a variety of foods, they are more likely to try new options.
- If your children are not wanting to eat what has been offered, it is actually detrimental to make a separate dish for them. This will only encourage them to refuse more often if they know they will get their way in the end. The hunger drive in humans is stronger than your children’s stubbornness and they will eat as long as you stick to your plan. However, it is still beneficial to include at least one food you know they will like.
- Forcing children to eat or punishing them when they don’t eat can make meals a negative experience. When you encourage and praise them with eating healthy foods or trying new things, this reinforces the behavior and will lead to good habits.
- Additionally, avoid having distractions present during the meal including toys, games, TVs, or phones.
- Find ways to make mealtime fun and exciting! Colorful foods arranged in a variety of shapes can be appealing to children. Don’t be afraid to offer a dip such as ranch or cheese to mask the bland taste of vegetables.
- Allowing your children to participate in meal planning can also be helpful. Let your kids help with age-appropriate tasks with cooking so they feel a sense of pride in the completed task.
- If your child comes to accept a certain food, try and make a visual or sensory connection with another food to encourage trying new things.
In summary, do your best to make mealtimes a positive experience for your kids. Trust that their bodies will tell them when they are hungry and then facilitate new taste experiences for them – offering them different or new foods. Encourage their blossoming personalities while demonstrating healthy habits. As always, if you are concerned as to whether your child is eating enough or if you need more assistance with a picky eater, talk to your child’s doctor.
About the Author
Bradley Paus, DO
“As a pediatrician, I want to create a safe and fun atmosphere with my patients and families where we can discuss all kinds of issues and collectively come up with practical solutions.”
Learn more about Dr. Paus, watch his video or schedule an appointment with him online at:
Learn more from Prevea Experts:
Sweet Dreams – Tips to Help Kids Sleep
Swimming and Water Safety for Kids