Your child is a picky eater, and what to do about it

Having a picky eater seems to be the norm these days. I’d almost dare to say that children between the ages of 2-7 more often than not wind up in the picky eater category.

Why the sharp jump in membership of The Picky Eaters Club during this time? Researchers believe it could be evolutionary. That way young “cave toddlers” wouldn’t walk around tasting every potentially dangerous thing in sight. Can you imagine?

Still, there are far more factors involved here: genetics, personality, and family eating habits to name a few.

My son is no exception. He is a proud card carrying member of The Picky Eaters Club and I am a reluctant member by association, trying to sway my son in another direction. It all began at the ripe old age of 2. Previously my baby boy would gobble up anything placed before him: peas, squash, avocados, blueberries, you name it.

It was like a switch was turned off (or on, depending on how you look at it), and he was suddenly suspicious of everything that was placed before him.

This sent me in a crazy spin for awhile. I wondered what I had done. Certainly I must have caused this sudden disdain for all things considered healthy. I was convinced it was because I introduced bananas first. Or, that I failed to introduce the veggies in the proper order.

Worse yet, I figured I must be missing the magic mommy touch. I didn’t have the finesse to cajole, coerce, or otherwise bribe my child to eat well.

I know (now) that none of that is true. I finally took a step back and made a mental list of the things I could do to encourage and support healthy eating habits.

  • I continue to offer him his daily dose of veggies. All I ask is that he gives them a try. It’s up to him whether or not he eats the rest. Did you know it can take up to 10-15 times of being offered a new food before a child will try it? It may feel futile at times, but don’t give up.
  • He’s old enough to understand that his body requires a balanced diet. We talk to him about needing protein, fiber, and the good vitamins found in fruit and veggies. He gets it. Hopefully one day it will sink in enough to not gag at the mere sight of broccoli.
  • Getting upset at him because he won’t eat the peas on his plate won’t make him want to eat those peas. He knows that he must taste them. Then, we move on. No drama, no tug of war.
  • I still modify his meals somewhat. If we’re having spaghetti and meat sauce, he gets plain spaghetti with Parmesan cheese and a side of chicken.
  • His being a picky eater has nothing to do with my mothering ability. Thankfully my daughter taught me this. At age 3, she is a much more adventurous eater and will gladly eat carrots, broccoli, edamame, and tomato soup.
  • I remind myself to look at the big picture. Instead of dissecting what he eats at each meal, I look at how he eats over the course of the week. Some days are better than others but overall, I am usually surprised to discover that he covers most of the dietary bases.

He continues to broaden his food horizons over time. It’s not overnight and I give him a multi vitamin to fill in the gaps. I hope someday he will allow a green vegetable past the obligatory “no thank you” bite. However, I am confident that his membership in The Picky Eaters Club is not life long.

Are you dealing with your own picky eater? Have you found ways to enjoy mealtime in spite of it?

Melissa Arca is a pediatrician who blogs at Confessions of a Dr. Mom.

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