Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Toddlers and Picky Eating

So I've been thinking about this topic for some time now but never got the chance to jot down my thoughts.  Part of the reason is that we're still trying to figure out this art!  I do believe much of child rearing is an art and not an exact science.  Again, this is a common topic that gets brought up in pediatric well visits and I'm sure if you googled, there would be an abundance of articles/blogs about this.  

So somewhere between the ages of 1 and 3, toddlers hit a stage where they are especially picky with eating.  This usually causes much frustration with parents and unfortunately can turn meal times into an unpleasant dread.

Even though as a physician, I may know in my head the "proper response and attitude"... I can honestly say it has been a struggle to "believe it with my heart" and to live it!

Some "proper response and attitudes" that run in the back of my mind:

  • Picky eating is a developmental stage... it will pass...
  • Do not make meal times a stressful unpleasant environment
  • Do not force the child to finish his or her plate
  • Do not bribe with sweets or prizes for him or her to finish
  • Just keep offering healthy choices...
  • Relax... don't worry... as long as child is on growth curve... relax...
Competing thoughts:
  • Why are you so stubborn?  Just eat it!!
  • Mealtime... here we go again.. sigh...
  • Ok.. just two more bites... open wide... airplane coming... vrooooooom....
  • Whoever finishes can have something sweet and cold!
  • My kid is stick and bones...  gotta feed more!
  • Aaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!
At the end of the day, it does boil down to how the child is growing on the curve.  If healthy food options are being offered and the child is on his or her growth curve then medically, there is no need to worry about malnutrition.  I've recognized that a lot of my own frustration comes from not being in "control".  Up until this point, I can nurse or bottle-feed or spoon feed baby food and for the most part, I am in control.  Now this little person wants control and unfortunately will often use meal times as a way to exert it.

Establishing a routine during mealtimes is helpful.  Plus, there are many sites out there that offer great tips on being creative and making food more attractive to toddlers so they are more appealing to eat.  Just have to be careful not to fall into the "too many choices" trap, which can also backfire.  Dip it, spread it, top it... Dr Sears actually has a great article on this offering 17 tips to feed the picky eater (http://www.askdrsears.com/topics/feeding-infants-toddlers/feeding-picky-eater-17-tips).

So now my four year old is actually growing out of this stage and it has been interesting to see her eat more.  It is also funny to watch my two year old who has always been a wonderful eater hit this stage and all of a sudden decide she wants to be picky at times.  She still is a pretty good eater compared to her older sister and just observing the two of them, I'm convinced that a child's temperament plays a big role in how painful this "picky eating stage" can be.  My 9 month old is still drinking and eating what we give him =)