One of the most common topics pediatricians cover at well visits is how to get picky eaters to eat. Picky eaters can be very frustrating to their families. We like to take a developmental approach to advising families about feeding children, because there are normal variations in how children eat at different ages.
When it is time to start solids, the goal is for an infant to learn how to eat and enjoy the socialization. At this stage, it is important to watch how your child accepts each bite. Communicating back and forth, serve-and-return is how to feed an infant.
When she wants more, she will eagerly open her mouth for more bites. When she is full or not wanting more, she will close her mouth and turn her head away.
Follow these cues and your baby will feel confident in knowing when she has had enough to eat. She will have less anxiety about trying new foods. This positive approach ensures a confident eater from the very start. An important fact to remember is that it may take trying a food up to 10-15 times before a young child will accept it.
Things can get worse for a parent’s sense of ease with toddlers and preschoolers. This age group is only hungry for meals on and off, and will go on food binges and strikes. Knowing this will help parents offer the widest variety of foods at the time it will be more likely to be eaten.
Several large studies have shown that when parents offer healthy foods and healthy snacks, even the pickiest eaters get the nutrition they need. They are not balancing their diets at each meal or at each day, but they are by the end of the week. Ellyn Satter, MS RD LCSW BCD, a researcher and practitioner in the field of pediatric feeding practices, explains that both parents and children have their own “jobs” to do when it comes to eating.
Parents are responsible for providing healthy foods for meals and snacks. Children are responsible for what and how much they eat. This helps children learn what it feels like to be hungry and then full so they will eat when hungry and stop when full.
It is very common for school-age children to reject vegetables. Again, the positive parenting approach will be the most effective: Parents should set a good example by eating a variety of vegetables, prepared in a variety of ways, themselves. Encourage children to try new foods, but do not force them to eat.
Have family meals with everyone in the family sometimes choosing the menu. By puberty most picky eaters are eating more vegetables. Be calm and set a good example. Have children join in shopping and cooking.
To learn more about this topic please see Child of Mine by Ellyn Satter; look up “picky eaters” at Zero to Three (ww.zerotothree.org) and the AAP’s Healthy Children (www.healthychildren.org). For ideas about encouraging children to try new foods see Food For Tots (www.foodfortots.com) and the magazine ChopChop (www.chopchopmag.org).
Let’s hope your child will soon be singing like The Beach Boys in Vega Tables:
I’m gonna be round my vegetables
I’m gonna chow down my vegetables
I love you most of all
My favorite vega-table.
Dr. Danette Glassy, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician at Mercer Island Pediatrics, providing a medical home for her patients for over 20 years. She is also an active child advocate working to improve the health and well-being of children and their families across the country. In this column she shares information of interest to families and caregivers as their child’s primary advocate. Information is her own view and not medical advice.