Many parents will identify with this:
“My baby used to be hungry all the time before she turned two but now she does not want to eat anything!”
It is completely normal for a toddler to be a picky eater. The fastest rate of weight gain occurs in the first 6 months of life (5-7 ounces per week). After that the rate slows down to 3-5 ounces per week. At around 9 months of age there is “physiologic” or normal expected drop in appetite, which is a cause of concern for many parents. As long as the baby is gaining weight and developing appropriately ( defer to your Pediatrician to make that call ), there is no reason to worry. Because the worst is yet to come!
Between 1 and 5 years of age rate of growth slows down further. But what happens at 2 years that makes children picky with their food?
- They learn the dreaded word “No”
- Sitting down to eat is boring
- They get a lot of attention of they refuse to eat
Let’s look at how to tackle this problem:
- Take a deep breath: Children pick up on your emotional state. If you get worked up, it’s hard for them to keep calm. And a cranky child is never going to comply with your request to finish his meal.
- Set a meal schedule: We are all creatures of habit, even when the creatures are bite-sized ( using a food metaphor while writing about eating is so smart ). Device a schedule that works for your family and commit to it, as much as possible.
- Let them get their hands dirty: Children in this age group like to be independent ( read, need us to pretend they are independent) and like to take ownership of their stuff. Use this to your advantage. Let them feed themselves, even if it means clean up is going to be a nightmare. Let them be involved in the process of preparing the meal. Give them options and let them decide.
- Eat together: You know what’s said about families that eat together, don’t you? Be that family. Children model your behaviors. If they see vegetables going into the mouths of happy, excited grown-ups, they are more likely to give them a try. This means you have to watch your own diet as well. Fries for you and carrot sticks for them is not going to work.
- Deception can be your friend: Learn to hide or disguise food. Take your cues from famous chefs to make beautifully presented plates. Just kidding. Some easier examples –
- Cookie cutters to give interesting shapes to sandwiches.
- Smiley faces on pancakes.
- Blend vegetables in their favorite sauce.
- Make colorful smoothies and serve in colorful cups with colorful straws and perhaps a cocktail umbrella.
- Be picky with your battles: If your child goes on a banana eating spree ( you know, bananas for bananas), then let her. Rest assured, the spree will pass and order will be restored. Or it may be replaced by another spree. As long as it is not something that might harm them, let them enjoy their binge.
- Be realistic about portion size: Your child’s stomach is about the size of their fist, so bear that in mind when you serve them. Here is a good rule of thumb for children 5 years old and under — 4 food groups should go on the plate ie Protein, Grains, Fruits, Vegetables. For each meal, serve 1 tablespoon per year of age for each food group. As an example, a 3-year-old should get 3 tablespoons of shredded chicken, 3 tablespoons of rice, 3 tablespoons of salad and 3 tablespoons of mixed berries.
- Persevere: Just because the cucumbers were rejected once (or several) times, does not mean they are banished forever. Wait a few days and try again. Perhaps in a different form.
Take comfort in the following fact a) you are not alone and b) this too shall pass. For most children, the “picky” phase is not detrimental to health, is not a sign of illness and starts to ebb by the time they start school. Help them learn how to listen to their body’s cues, to make healthy food choices and have “happy meals” at home.