Picky Eaters

2 Jan


I have a 14-month old that is very picky about her foods sometimes.  As I was talking to my friend who used to teach nutrition, she mentioned something very interesting to me.  She said that many times parents will assume that a child doesn’t like a particular food because he or she refuses to eat it.  Most of us know a parent that has used the phrase, “Oh, she doesn’t like vegetables,” or “sorry, my darling kid does not eat lettuce, tomato, cucumber, apples, or anything red.”  My friend then explained that:

Babies and toddlers can take up to 15-20 tries before developing a taste for particular foods.  Too often parents give up after a few tries and then assume for the rest of that child’s life that it is something they don’t like.  The child assumes it to be truth, and makes a connection in the brain that they do not like that food.  That’s why it is important to give your kids a variety of foods when they are young and keep offering them again and again.  I know first hand that it can be very frustrating to offer your child something repeatedly only to feel like you are wasting the food when they refuse to eat it, but I have noticed as I have done it with my own little girl that it works.  I find myself shocked to see her eat an entire serving of something she gagged on just days or weeks prior.

Texture Matters.  My husband and I like to play games to try to get our daughter to eat certain things.  One night I tried repeatedly to feed her some of the soup we were eating for dinner and she gagged it up, spit it out, and refused to let the spoon come near her.  I then decided to experiment:  I dumped her food into the blender and 2 minutes later she was practically inhaling the soup as if it was her favorite meal.  I also used to think my daughter hated bananas which made me very sad; however, I was surprised to find her chewing on a whole banana while visiting my mom’s one day.  I discovered that it must be the texture of mashed up bananas that she does not like right now.  If I just take the peel off and offer it to her whole she will usually eat it.

One Bite.  Some may think it’s cruel, but I force the first bite.  I do this because more often than not my child will absolutely refuse to eat something, but once I force the first bite she will realize that it tastes different that she anticipated and she will finish the entire serving.  If I gave up at her initial refusal she would only eat two food categories: bread and anything sweet.

The “List”.  Anyone from a big family notice that the “second half” of the siblings get raised a little bit different that the first?  As a college student visiting home, I was surprised to hear one of my younger siblings say the following phrase at the dinner table: “I don’t have to eat broccoli, it’s on my list.”  apparently my mom had gotten sick of the “fight” in making the kids eat their vegetables that she let them make a list (I believe it was a list of 3) of the top fruits and/or vegetables that they absolutely hated eating.  If that item appeared on the dinner table they were excused from having to eat it, but if it was something not on their list, they had to eat a serving of it.  If only that rule had existed when I was young…I remember many long nights of sitting at the dinner table (gagging repeatedly) hours after everyone else was excused because I refused to eat my broccoli (funny thing is that is now one of my favorite vegetables!).

Offer Choices.  Sometimes picky eating can be a result of your child trying to exercise his/her independence.  In this kind of situation you could try to offer choices as much as possible.  Before fixing dinner, think of 2 different vegetables that could go with the particular meal before settling on one.  Then allow your child to choose his fate:  “Would you like corn or peas with dinner tonight?”  This approach may require some planning, but if avoids a fight and gets some nutrition in your child is it worth it?

Limit Snacking.  My pediatrician even suggested eliminating snack altogether.  He suggested that kids that walk around with sippy cups and fruit snacks turn into teenagers that walk around with potato chips and big gulps.  I personally don’t mind offering my toddler a snack here and there, but when we are going through periods of picky eating, I eliminate them and she is a much better eater.  If you make sure they are hungry when dinner is served, they will be more willing to try what’s on the menu.

If your child is still a baby/toddler:  My daughter refused solids until she was about 8 months old and even then she would only eat the fruits.  I eventually got her to eat vegetables by mixing small portions of the vegetables in with her fruits.  Gradually the ratio of vegetable to fruit became larger and larger until she was eating vegetables by themselves.  Again, I believe this goes back to the principle of many tries before a child develops a taste for certain types of foods.  If they are used to full-time breast-feeding they are probably used to a more sweeter taste.

I post this not to say that my child is perfect little eater–she is still learning to like a variety of foods and still has quite a way to go.  I post to share what I have learned so far and also hope to get suggestions from other mommies out there!  Please!  If you know of something that works that isn’t already listed, please share!

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