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?
My toughest challenge is bringing new foods to the table. I admit I fall into the “picky eater” category myself. I’m getting much better with age, but I’m still not a very adventurous eater. But I don’t want my son to be picky, if I can help it! We’re so busy lately that it’s just easier to serve the stuff I know he’ll eat rather than putting the extra effort in to offer new foods. I definitely need to work on that.
Working on food variety and rotation will definitely pay off in the long run! It’s hard to put your own picky eating aside, but is something parents need to do for the sake of healthy eating in their children. Even my husband has faked liking certain veggies for the good of the children! 🙂
As of lately, my toughest challenge with picky eating is that my two year old copy’s EVERYTHING her four year old sister does or says. So some nights when we sit down for dinner my four year old (the picky eater) will say “gross” or “I don’t want to eat that” and her sister sees her and does the same thing! It’s frustrating because the two year old is usually a great eater so when I see her copy her older sister and decide she doesn’t want to eat I get annoyed.