Parenting Tips

On Picky Eating

© Victoria Todd

Picky eating can start very early—when a child first starts eating solids.  But it seems most common during toddlerhood and may continue throughout childhood and beyond.  There your child sits stubbornly refusing a plate of your nutritious and delicious food as if it were laced with arsenic.  “Not hungry,” he mumbles with a turned face and tight lips.  But, as soon as the food is put away, this very same child will be ravenously in search of treats.  So, what’s going on?

Young children seem to be naturally suspicious of new foods.  Also, this is one of the only ways they can exert some autonomy.  You can cook it, but you can’t make him eat it.  In fact, the more you beg and plead, the less likely he is to even give it a try.  But you already know that.  So what should you do?

First of all, establish some rules—most importantly, absolutely no fighting about food.  If possible, try to engage your child in menu-planning, shopping and cooking so he will feel an investment in the meal.  Make sure there is a family meal time, when everyone sits down and enjoys pleasant conversation and togetherness.  Let your child serve himself so the portions will be of his choosing.  Then pretend not to notice what he does or doesn’t eat.

Some mothers will provide an alternative to the main dish, if their child tries it and doesn’t like it.  “You can make a peanut butter sandwich if you like.”  Others don’t offer an alternative, but have healthy snacks available that anyone can eat if they’re hungry.

The important thing is to not make eating into a battlefield.  Work on improving your mealtime atmosphere and remember… if your child is between growth spurts, he really may not be hungry.  If he remains healthy, active and your pediatrician is not concerned about his growth, try not to worry.  If you suspect that your picky eater is troubled by something deeper and is not just asserting his independence, contact a mental health professional.