by Ashley Giddens MS, RD/LD
Q: My toddler is a picky eater. Is there anything I can do to help with her eating habits?
A: From ages one to three, the toddler years are a time of slowed growth, thus, a naturally lessened interest in foods. Rather than eat, they sometimes prefer to explore their environment and can become easily distracted. Also, they are becoming more independent and often insist, “I can do it myself.” Foods that were once favorites can all of a sudden be refused. This is often the norm during toddler years and can even extend until the age of five. So what’s a concerned parent to do?
Here are some tips:
For starters, toddlers imitate, so they are more likely to be accepting of foods if they see you eating them as well. Ensure that mealtimes are positive and relaxing experiences. Avoid loud music, television noise and boisterous conversations at the table in order to reduce distraction.
Discourage grazing on foods throughout the day so that your toddler can be hungry at set mealtimes and snack times. Offer small portions of foods because, after all, their stomachs are much smaller, and allow them to ask for more if desired rather than encouraging, “Just one more bite.” This allows them to be in tune with their feeling of fullness while also giving them independence.
Rather than force-feeding, stay patient and attempt to offer a rejected food at a later time, perhaps in a different shape or form or paired with a favorite food. Try these foods at the beginning of meals when your child is the hungriest and keep in mind that it may take several tries before a child will become accepting. Sometimes, they just want to check it out and think about it for a while.
The problem with offering dessert as an award for an upset child or for “cleaning the plate” is that it can promote emotional eating or overeating later in life. Do keep in mind that little ones may not eat perfectly each meal, but if you sense that their behavior is just not quite right; do not hesitate to contact your pediatrician.
For nutritional counseling, Norman Regional Health System offers the guidance of registered dietitians. Those interested can schedule an appointment for an assessment with a referral from their family physician.