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Overcoming Picky Eating

What if you have a picky eater?

Toddlers seem to be innately selective when it comes to food and what they will and will not eat. It can be very frustrating and occasionally worrisome for parents.

It sounds easy enough, but we as mothers and fathers know all too well that our little mini me’s are stubborn and have their own will. It can take 20 or more introductions to a new food before your child will even taste it. If your child will only accept ~30 different foods you would have what is considered a picky eater. If he or she is accepting less than 20 foods it is worrisome and should be addressed with a dietitian or feeding therapist.

Picky eating is, in most cases, a normal part of development. Although it can be stressful as a parent, we as humans are biologically programmed to be cautious of new foods until they are proven to be safe. This is especially true of bitter foods- since poison is typically bitter. It can be common for vegetables to have a bitter flavor, which in turn makes it more challenging to get our little ones to try new healthy options. So, how do you get over the hump? Once you as a parent have ensured their food is safe to eat, how can you encourage them to try the new food presented? My recommendation is to play with food introductions to make the encounters as fun and exciting as possible. Experiment with smell, appearance, texture and the sound of a food as they chew it. Describe your experience to your child as you enjoy the same food, presented in the same manner. Don’t make your children separate meals. It can be tempting to give your little one something you know they’ll enjoy, but by doing so you remove the opportunity for them to try new foods. It also complicates mealtime in multiple facets. Try to encourage mealtimes vs on the go snacking. Kids are more open to try something new when there is an opportunity to interact and discuss the foods being eaten. Plan your meals and snacks. If snack time falls too close to mealtime, or they’ve been grazing all day your little one won’t have much of an appetite. If kids are over hungry it can also be problematic. Don’t make a big issue if they do refuse the foods offered to them. If a child realizes that refusing a food gets them a lot of attention, they’re going to continue to do it. You can also hide the ingredients. Using vegetable purees mixed in with some of their favorite meals can add a lot of nutritional value and be an easy way for them to experience new foods without a lot of fuss.

It can be a very challenging process to ensure your child is nourished. Your little ones are learning a lot about the world. Food and meal times can be huge opportunities for them to learn communication skills, social behaviors, language and fine motor skills. Thus feedings are much more than just placing food in front of them. Be patient, calm and understanding during these opportunities. Do your best to appreciate these moments, have fun and laugh.

Teresa Brennan, RD, CD, CNSC is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Nutrition Support Clinician. She holds a certification in Adult Weight Management and is currently a busy mom of two little ones. Teresa is a consulting RD for FIT4MOM Eastside.