September 20, 2017

by Ben Dexter, MD

If you’re a parent, it’s likely that you’ve dealt with your child refusing to eat foods that they previously devoured the day before, or simply eating less of the food than before.

In most cases, picky eating is a typical behavior for many kids and is a step in the process of growing up because children are setting their own boundaries while learning the word ‘no.’ A vast majority of kids will have some food preferences and most go through the phase of being a picky eater during their toddler years.

While it can persist until school age, as well as the occasion of reaching until adulthood, most children will grow out of the picky eating stage. Until that happens, there are some tips that parents can use to help their child eat a balanced diet.

  • Serve meals and snacks at the same time every day: get in the habit of having your child eat three meals and two snacks a day by setting up a routine. If they don’t eat everything offered at either breakfast, lunch or dinner, a snack will offer them another opportunity to eat nutritious food during the day.
  • Make meals family time: having your child sit at the table with the rest of the family for the entire meal encourages them to eat with the family.
  • Don’t prepare another meal: if your child is a picky eater, it causes more stress to the parent to be a short order cook by making dinners for everyone in the family. By doing that, it actually reinforces the child’s picky eating behavior. What you can do instead, is pair foods your child doesn’t like with foods that they do. If they’re not hungry, don’t force them to eat everything on their plate.
  • Set a good example: the more excitement and enjoyment over fruits and vegetables you show, the more likely your child will want to eat them, or at least try them, too!
  • Reintroduce foods: it’s important to reintroduce foods that children have rejected because sometimes it’s not coming from a taste preference, it can be them simply saying ‘no.’ Try mixing a vegetable or fruit with one that they do like.
  • Allow them to help: depending on your child’s age, recruit them to help pick out foods at the grocery store and help you with food preparation in the kitchen. It can help make food time more fun for your little one and will make foods more interesting for them.
  • Make the food different: if you want your child to eat their veggies but they don’t like green bean or broccoli, change up the food’s color to make it more interesting. You can also cut foods into shapes, like Mickey Mouse pancakes, or incorporate a smiley face on a casserole.
  • Offer a variety: when it comes to snacks, offer a wide variety of foods from each food group by incorporating fruits, vegetables, meats and grains. The number one thing to remember for the toddler age group is to make sure the food is not a choking hazard.
  • Know the red flags: there are risk factors for true oral aversion and are more often seen in children who were born prematurely or were fed by a feeding tube for a significant portion of their life. Look for poor weight gain, vomiting, choking or heaving at meals and complete food aversion to a certain food group. If you’re worried about picky eating or concerned there could be a larger issue, make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to assess your worries about your child’s eating.

For more information on picky eating, click here.