Dealing with Picky Eaters
Are you constantly looking for new recipes for kids or more specifically, toddler meal ideas? This may be because your child has suddenly begun refusing the meals you are offering. Foods that were previously loved are now being rejected. Sound familiar? Picky eating is a common occurrence in toddlers, typically beginning around the age of 18 months to 2 years. At this stage, your toddler is trying to assert their independence and trying to gain some level of control. Eating is one of the few areas in a toddler’s life that they have control over, so it tends to be where we see this behaviour the most. Toddlers also like routine and familiarity in their lives and this includes meal time, making it difficult to introduce new foods during this phase. New foods can be scary and overwhelming for toddlers and it may take several exposures before they are willing to try a new food.
As a kids’ nutritionist, I often get asked questions on the subject of dealing with picky eaters. Here are a few common questions and answers:
Picky eating is a common occurrence in toddlers, typically beginning around the age of 18 months to 2 years.
Q – Can’t I just hide vegetables in my child’s favourite foods?
A – On the one hand, it doesn’t hurt to get extra nutrients in anywhere you can but trying to trick your child is never a good idea. If you attempt to hide vegetables or other foods into your child’s favourites and they discover what you have done, you now have 2 problems on your hands. 1. You have taught them that you cannot be trusted and 2. you may have just ruined one of their few preferred foods leaving them unwilling to eat it anymore. Hiding food also doesn’t teach your child any new skills. Eating is a learned behaviour and exposing your child to new shapes, colours, textures and flavours is an important part of the learning process.
Q – How can I help my picky eater?
A – There are many different strategies that can help, but choosing the right strategy for your child is key. Getting to the bottom of why your child eats the way that he or she does is an important first step. For some, simply being a toddler is a major behavioural factor, but there are usually other factors to consider. For example, is there any pain or discomfort that your child might be experiencing such as teething, reflux, constipation or frequent illness that might be affecting their appetite or willingness to eat? If so, this needs to be addressed. Often, the mealtime environment and parents’ expectations also needs to be adjusted to facilitate positive behavioural changes and an improvement in eating habits.
Eating is a learned behaviour and exposing your child to new shapes, colours, textures and flavours is an important part of the learning process.
Q – Do you have any easy dinner recipes for kids? I’m tired of going to so much trouble when my meals are constantly being rejected…
A – While my website does offer what I call “Kid-Friendly” recipes, I actually do not think that making special recipes for kidsor toddler meals is the answer. Eventually, your toddler will need to learn to eat the same food as everyone else, and in my experience, the earlier a child is introduced to this way of eating, the more accepting they will be. Building healthy eating habits can take time. It is important to be persistent and consistent with your efforts. Another point to consider is that when you make your child a “special meal” your are automatically putting a certain amount of pressure on them to eat. If they reject the food, you feel frustrated or angry because of all the effort you put into preparing this special meal. This can often result in coercion, bribery or even threats. This type of stress and conflict at the table only makes the situation worse. If you are offering your child the same food as you are eating, whether or not they eat it is their choice, but at least the rest of the family will still be enjoying it.
If you are concerned that your child is not eating a balanced diet, look at what your child eats over the course of a day or a week, rather than at each individual meal. If you feel you need strategies that are specific to your child and your family, speak with your healthcare provider and ask to be referred to someone who specializes in dealing with picky eaters.
Here I talk about Healthy Drinks for Kids.
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