Understanding Picky Eaters
By Aviva Schein, M.D. and Ravi Raheja, M.D.If your baby is already choosy about feeding times or sometimes is disinterested in feeding, you may already wonder about what feeding troubles lie ahead. Relax. There are natural and good reasons why a growing child may become a picky eater.
Toddlerhood tends to be the most common age for picky eaters, although some children remain particular about their food even as they get older. Toddlers are picky for several reasons. First, their growth rate decreases significantly after a period of very rapid weight gain in the first year. Their metabolism slows, and they simply do not need as many calories. Second, toddlers are very active and do not like to be interrupted from their exploration and discovery of the world for something as mundane as mealtime. Finally, toddlers are going through a period of testing their independence -- food may be one area in which, if a battle emerges, they insist on getting their way.
Parents should remember that normal toddlers may have unusual eating habits. They may eat a lot one day and very little for the next few days. They may go through a period of only eating one type of food. They may refuse to eat an entire food group (most commonly vegetables) for some time.
What can parents do about this? If your child is growing well and is otherwise healthy, recognize that the child's behavior is normal. It is not the parents' job to force a child to eat. Parents should provide a selection of healthy foods at meal and snack times. It is the child's job to decide what s/he does or does not want to eat. Trying to coerce or cajole a child into eating something s/he does not want is counterproductive. It's better to ignore the behavior and wait until the next meal or snack time to offer more healthy food.
Parents can also use creative strategies to make food more appealing. If your child likes milk shakes, yogurt and fruit may be blended into a healthy shake. Vegetables may be disguised in a casserole or hidden in macaroni and cheese. Many toddlers like to help prepare meals and enjoy eating what they have made. Keep portions small, and try to have a variety of healthy foods available.
Parents who are concerned about their child's eating habits should discuss the problem with their pediatrician. For most toddlers, this picky eating stage is a normal part of development, and one day they will probably outgrow it. In the meantime, parents should try to avoid struggles over food and keep mealtime pleasant.