Picky Eaters

Food Jags and Picky Eaters
Welcome to the preschool/toddler years where every parent struggles with picky eaters! This phase of life is such an exciting time with new discoveries each day for both parent and child.  If you are the parent of a toddler, you probably have encountered some picky eating habits or even food jags, where your child will only eat one particular food or type of food at each meal.  During this exciting time for toddlers and parents, growth actually slows, development excels, and calorie and nutrient needs are high especially in vitamins A, C, B6, iron, zinc and calcium. 
This is also a time where children will begin to assert more independence, including their eating habits.  If your child begins to eat a little less, don’t be alarmed since intake with a toddler can often vary from day to day and meal to meal.  One minute your toddler loves bananas and the next he seems to hate them.  The quirky eating behavior of a toddler can often be very stressful for parents.  If you are concerned, it is always a good idea to check with your pediatrician to make sure your child’s growth is within normal range.

Picky eating and food jags are very common between the ages of 1- 4 years. The following tips  can help parents move through this fickle eating stage:

  • Offer meals and snacks around the same time each day
  • Keep serving sizes toddler friendly
  • Serve at least one food you know your child likes at each meal
  • Offer a new food when you know your child is ready for a meal/snack, well rested and happy
  • Remember your child learns from your example; always be a positive role model when eating
  • Offer foods with different textures, colors, shapes, flavor, and temperature (warm, cold)
  • Always offer  a variety of foods at each meal or snack
  • Encourage your child to get involved in meal preparation and meal planning
  • Try not to let your child see your frustration but focus on the positive aspect of eating
  • Use encouraging words like “Good Job” or  “Proud of you” when your child does try a new food but try not to over praise
  • Use short phrasing like “ Take Bite” or “Bite Please”
  • Let your child tell  you when he or she is done or full….watch for “all done” cues
  • If your child gets stuck on a food, it’s OK to serve that food at meal times but make sure you are also offering a variety of other foods as well
  • Make sure your toddler eats from all food groups (starch, fruit, vegetable, protein and dairy).
  • Remember that this is a time when toddlers are asserting food independence but also a time where parents need to watch for choking hazards. Hot dogs, nuts, hard peanuts, hard candies, grapes, raw carrots and raw apples pose the greatest choking risk.
  • Never force feed your child and please do not try to enforce the old “clean your plate” rule…Eating should be enjoyable!

Preventing food jags is a methodical process. Prevention is not always possible for some children. If you have a child who seems to jag on a particular food, but you are not able to vary the food in any way and his or her diet choices continue to decrease along with caloric intake, it may be time to seek professional assistance.  Speech Language Pathologists, Occupational Therapists, and Pediatric Dietitians can team with your child’s pediatrician to increase food and caloric intake and ultimately increase healthy growth in your child.

Jenny Beth Kroplin, RD, LDN, CLC                Marianne P. Sperry, M.A., CCC/SLP