What parents of picky eaters need to know
As a pediatric nutritionist, I have counseled my fair share of parents and their young children through the ups and downs of picky eating. I have seen picky eaters with one or more parents who are also picky eaters.
I have seen underweight picky eaters and overweight picky eaters.
I have seen defeated parents of picky eaters, at a loss for what to do next.
I have seen parents who are embattled with their child in unhealthy ways.
I have seen picky eaters who turned out to have other things going on, like overly large adenoids, sensory disorders, multiple food allergies, and eosinophilic esophagitis.
As a mom of four, I have had my fair share of personal experiences with picky eating. My first child exhibited picky eating (my first real-life experience with picky eating) and it was a difficult experience. Not only was my professional ego bruised (yes, dietitians can have picky eaters too!), my confidence in getting through it was shaky. I admit, I constantly questioned myself and my feeding skills through those early “firsts. The rest of my kids all went through some sort of picky eating, but I was seasoned with professional and personal experience and saw it as an affirmation that my younger three were normal and passing through an expected phase on their developmental track.
As a mom and dietitian, here’s what I want all parents of picky eaters to know:
- Expect picky eating! It will happen, in some way, shape, or form. Don’t let those early “eat anything” baby years fool you into thinking it won’t. Most likely it will. Let it play out. In other words, roll with it—don’t fight picky eating or try to control it. If you do, it will probably control you.
- Don’t let your toddler see you sweat. Your emotional reaction can fuel the fire of picky eating…or dampen it. If you always react with control, emotion, or manipulation, you will have a tougher time with your picky eater. But if you react calmly and use positive feeding practices like allowing your toddler to regulate his or her own eating, it will likely be a short phase.
- Have fun feeding your toddler! Toddlerhood is a time to play with food. Let your toddler get messy. Let him lick, kiss, poke, smear, smell, touch, and taste food, all in the name of learning. Rotate foods and expose your child to different foods.
- Keep bringing a variety of foods to the table. Rotate different grains, dairy, fruit, vegetable, and protein sources in your child’s diet. Don’t get pinned in the corner with five to ten foods your toddler will eat. You’ll regret that move later.
Every picky toddler I have met has a parent who is struggling almost as much, if not more, to get through this developmental phase. What’s been your toughest challenge with picky eating?