By TEIS Early Intervention Staff
Early Intervention and Picky Eaters
Are Your Child’s Eating Habits a Problem or a Phase?
At some point your baby is likely to push away the carrot puree. Your toddler may turn their head when faced with a spoon full of peas. Most “picky eating” behavior is normal and occurs at one time or another among 20% to 50% of kids.
Young children can be frustrating at mealtime for a wide range of reasons, many of which are no real worry.
They could be full, teething, or cranky. Their digestive system is still in the process of maturing, as is their taste and preference for textures. Kids can laser focus on one food that is their favorite, only to lose their taste for it a week or two later.
There’s no need for you to stress over the situation. There are things you can do to help, some things you want to avoid, and a few warning signs to watch out for.
How to Help Your Picky Eater
At some point, you child’s eating behaviors will level out. In the meantime, be patient, persistent, and creative.
Just because your child refuses a food once doesn’t mean you should stop serving it. Try serving popular foods and unpopular foods together. It can take 10 to 15 trials before you know if your child is truly rejecting a certain food.
Make meals a family occasion, one where you can model healthy eating. Offer a variety of healthy, age appropriate foods, and arrange them in eye-catching, colorful ways. The art of “plating” is not only for high-end restaurants.
Pairing works too. Toddlers tend to dislike sour and bitter flavors at first while gravitating toward salty and sweet ones. Pairing bitter broccoli with salty grated cheese can be an effective way to introduce some nutritious green into their diets. Adopt similar pairings to expand your child’s acceptance of new flavors.
Keep Mealtime a Fun Experience
While there is a lot of advice about how to handle picky eaters online, and some approaches may work better for your little one than others, most would agree that an aggressive, disciplinary approach is not the way to go.
Force feeding and pressuring your child to “eat everything on their plate” is counterproductive and can cause a variety of problems down the road. And certainly, there’s no need to punish children for being fussy.
Take a break from bribing your child with treats and avoid preparing special meals just for them.
Strive instead to make food fun. Have your child help in picking ingredients, planning meals, and preparing food. Of course, take your child’s age carefully into account and create age appropriate and safe meal activities. A kid friendly pancake recipe, for example, can engage a young imagination, but draw the line at letting youngsters anywhere near a hot griddle!
Signs to Watch For
Your child is being more than finicky when these concerning signs come to light: difficulty swallowing and gagging, vomiting disliked foods, weight loss, and developing extreme behaviors around mealtime, including frequent tantrums and crying.
With a little help and patience, most picky eaters outgrow their finicky stage. However, if you suspect your child is having serious difficulties at mealtime, it’s time to learn more about Early Intervention.
Call TEIS Early Intervention at 412-271-8347 or Text INFO to 412-543-8398 During Regular Business Hours (8:00 am to 4:00 pm, M-F).
Reference Links for More Information
Mayo Clinic | 10 Tips for Picky Eaters
WebMD | Is Your Baby a Picky Eater?
KidsHealth | How Should I Deal with a Picky Eater?