For The Love Of Food: A Picky Eater In The House

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Picky Eaters

Stop playing with your food! Eat your carrots. Those are good for your eyes! Broccoli makes you strong!

Sounds familiar? Greetings from a recovering mom of two picky eaters, especially veggies and fruits. But what is a picky eater anyway? While there is no clear definition of a picky eater, a report published in the Journal of American Dietetic Association in 2004 mentions that when parents were asked if their child was a picky eater, 50% responded “yes.” Right!

But, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It does get better.

Kids go through periods when they are not growing and grow in spurts. The times that they are not growing are when they eat less than when they have those growth spurts. If your child is not losing weight and is otherwise active and a happy child, they are most likely just being a kid.

One important caveat to remember is that the first 18 months of a child’s life is more social and emotional development. That’s when they are slowly learning independence. But, this is also the time when they are the most receptive to exploring new tastes. Then comes language and communication skills, and the terrible twos. For the new moms, start adding baby food slowly at six months of age. By nine months, when a baby’s taste buds are well developed, they should have already experienced a few different tastes.

But for that constant picky eater, with no medical challenges that come in eating, here are a few things to remember.

The power struggle: Children like to test out things as they grow and start to understand the environment better. Deciding on what they want to eat might be one way of testing the waters. You want them to learn to identify the sense of hunger. All you need to do in this power struggle is to determine what you want your little one to eat and put it on the table in front of them. Let them decide how much they want to eat. You will be surprised. If they have not eaten well at one meal, they will be hungry at the next.

The bells and whistles all around: Keep mealtimes quiet and without distractions so that the food in front of them is the center of attention. 

That means no TV or phones, mamma.

Have a schedule: Break up the mealtime into breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack time. Do not let your child cheat in between. That way, they are ready when it is mealtime.

Smart eating: Kids who are not great eaters should not be offered many empty-calorie foods so that the food they will eat gets the required nutrition. Remember to keep a food item they like as part of the meal so that mealtimes are not a psychological trauma.

Keep your cool: Try not to show anger or frustration. That only lets your child know how much they can push you around. Plus, this is a sensitive child who is very good at differentiating food textures and tastes!!

Even more fun, how about doing some gardening at home !!

Be the role model: Try to eat together as a family as much as possible. Modeling always works. And as you know, your kids are watching you all the time!!!

Persevere: Research shows that a food item needs to be offered about 15 times before a picky eater will accept it.

Family fun times:

  • Engage your child in meal prep.
  • Take them to the grocery with you.
  • Ask them to help you pick the grocery.

The best for the last: Desserts should always come after the main meal.

And finally, a big word of caution: Never use food as a reward or punishment. It is a setup for emotional eaters in the long run.

These are time-tested strategies. 

Try them out, and I would love to hear what worked and what had to be tweaked. You got this, Mammas! If not, you always have your child’s doctor to talk to.

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Dr. Bhattacharyya (we get to call her Violina) is the owner and CEO of WonderKidz Pediatrics and a mom of two, ages seven and eleven. She did her medical schooling in India and completed her residency in pediatrics at the University of Miami, Jackson Memorial Hospital. She has been in practice for the last eleven years in Miami and will be opening her new office in Broward at the end of this year. A typical day for her can be super busy and yet exciting because every day as a pediatrician is a new adventure. After office hours, it's home sweet home where she and her husband enjoy family time. She loves to try different cuisines and still makes time to secretly binge watching her favorite Netflix shows! Her niche is in child behavioral health and has a passion for helping families who need that extra assistance for their precious little one. Her experience in behavioral health at the primary care level allows her to continue to help families as needed as well as help adopt and adhere to healthy lifestyle choices for their children from birth to adolescence.

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