I'm writing this blog because my firstborn used to eat butter under the dining room table in secret. Leaving me chunks of butter with teeny teethmarks. My second child thinks that three PB & Js make up a balanced meal. My third is a carb addict who uses vegetables as a way to eat his ketchup. My fourth kiddo eats like a grown man and eats your leftovers when you aren't looking. They have all been picky at some point. Some for a brief time and others for a very, long, exhausting two years. So I feel for you when you say, " my kiddo eats nothing." That is exactly how it feels at times.
First piece of advice. Don't have the food fight. I know. I've been there. We just want them to eat nutritious foods. So we beg, bribe, count, hide and hope. We all do it. The "by the book" parents do it. The "permissive" parents do it. The "authoritarian" parents do it. The middle of the road " authoritative" parents do it. So much to think about these days. Cry it out or teach them to self soothe? Breastfeed or bottle feed? Timeout or time in? Let them be picky or force them to eat the broccoli (you know... the one you've called a tree hoping it would entice them to eat it? The one you desperately covered in ranch, ketchup, yogurt, hummus or mashed potatoes)? Hint: grind it up in a mixer and disguise it in tomato sauce).
So where do we begin when we have a picky eater? Let's first remember that it's normal to be a picky eater at some point. I tell my families, if your toddler is not having temper tantrums I might worry. Tantrums, like picky eating is an expected, albeit frustrating part of child development. We don't have to like it, but it's normal and usually not your fault.
Here are some tips:
Don't have the food fight.
No battling at mealtime. Offer healthy foods. Place small amounts of each food on the plate at meals even if you don't think they will eat it. Keep it colorful. Keep it simple. Avoiding the food fight might just help your cause. And don't cook another meal if your toddler refuses the one you made. I know we are used to doing everything twice, but cooking once is hard enough. Cooking twice is near impossible when you have little mini-hurricanes running around having dance parties and trashing your house.
Don't reward with junk food.
Sometimes I'm guilty of this one. The pediatrician in me will tell you "no rewards in this way as it might set up an unhealthy relationship with food down the line." The mommy in me will tell you, "it sometimes gets my kids to eat broccolirabe " (A bitter, green, very healthy vegetable). However, it is all in moderation. Dessert should not be expected every night or after every meal. Dessert should include whole fruits if possible. Try to lean towards naturally flavored yogurts, frozen watermelon on a stick, apples with peanut butter or a small portion of low fat pudding. What we aim to avoid is treating a meal as a chore. Try to avoid the control struggle and center your approach around feeding a healthy body. Model that when you can. ( BTW It's ok if you eat a cookie hiding in the closet once in awhile. Doesn't everyone do that? Just to have a whole cookie to myself without interruption is glorious). Don't count or yell. If they skip a meal, guess what? They skip a meal. They have reserve. They will be fine. They will live. They will grow.
Monitor intake of fluids.
We like to keep our kids hydrated, but be mindful of these choices. Water is best. Milk is ok (limit to twice a day). Juice and soda is not beneficial and can cause cavities and obesity. I hear a lot of concerns about 6 month- 12 month olds and their need for juice. Truth is, they don't need any. They are hydrated from their formula or breastmilk which of course has the necessary nutrients for optimal growth. By the way, did you know that newborns should never have water in their bottles or watered down formula/ breastmilk? It can cause an imbalance of electrolytes in their blood and lead to seizures!
A few points to remember:
Children of obese parents are 80% more likely to be obese themselves.
It can take up to 18 exposures to a food before someone might develop a taste for a disliked food.
We have Dr. Will Dalton, PhD in our office who often counsels families with picky eaters. Call us for an appointment and we can refer you. The struggle is real and we've been there. Picky eating is just one of the 100 challenging parts of parenting. The other 99 can be found in my previous and/ or future blogs!
So, offer healthy foods, model healthy eating ( when you're not in the closet) and ask for help if you need it. It's all about moderation. Don't expect your child to eat every food group at every meal. Don't accept that only junky food is ok bc "at least they are eating". Strive for the middle ground. Teach them when you can. Let them have a cookie once in awhile as long as they leave one for you!
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