On most issues, I speak to you with some experience as a family physician and parent. These are topics that I have counseled parents on and have seen some small victories in my home. On the other hand, I speak more theoretically about the things I have not seen much of or have failed with at home.
Picky eating is one of those latter topics. I have pleaded and cajoled. I have been in your shoes and have not always seen success.
Let’s start with some physiology that I do understand. The rate of growth of our kids slows down around age 12 months. This means appetite usually drops, which allows kids to become pickier. In fact, picky eating is the norm for many toddlers. They may go weeks eating just a couple of preferred foods.
Here are some overarching principles to guide us in this struggle with our picky eaters.
First, try to involve your child in some form of food preparation. This probably doesn’t mean operating the Cuisinart or chopping vegetables, but it may mean choosing between corn and carrots. This investment in the process may make kids more likely to eat at the table.
Second, be patient. It may take 10 or more exposures for your child to try a new food. Praise your child for any attempt to try a new food.
Though this may go against how we were raised, don’t force a child to eat. Stress that what is on the table now is the only thing on the table. Don’t make a separate meal or snack for your child if they don’t eat.
Regarding safety of certain foods, kids can’t grind their teeth well to eat certain foods until about age four. Try to avoid the following until then: raw carrots, raw celery, large sections of hot dog, whole grapes, peanuts and other nuts.
Try to make a variety of healthy foods available. And if your child refuses a food, try another in the future from the same food group. For example, try a deep-yellow or orange vegetable rather than a green vegetable. Not wanting low-fat milk? Try yogurt, cheese or a low-fat flavored milk. Try chicken, turkey, pork or fish instead of lean beef.
Consider adding “eye appeal.” Use a cookie cutter to cut foods into interesting shapes, or add a smiley face on top of a casserole.
In addition, you can present a food that they like along with a food they have refused in the past to see if this increases the rate of success.
You could disguise other foods by adding them into a dish to add nutritional value. This may work with some kids, but others are super sleuths who will detect these unexpected ingredients and perhaps make them pickier.
So I will join you in this meandering journey, of airplane noises while “flying” a spoonful of food to a closed mouth, of puppet shows about the four food groups, of daydreams about large funnels. We will take this journey, with these successes and failures, together.