Toddlers are notoriously picky eaters. I know this because food is a common concern for pediatricians. In fact, nearly one-third of children are characterized by their parents as being excessively selective about what they eat.
Here are a few facts that should help put such concerns at ease. First, the nutrient intake of picky eaters is rarely different from the non-picky counterpart. Second, most children broaden their food tastes as they get older. Third, when compared to an average eater, the number of items a picky toddler won’t eat is often minimal. Chances are your child enjoys a broader selection of foods than you may realize.
Before dismissing pickiness as a harmless event, let’s review some medical concerns. The most important question to answer is “How is my child growing?” This is where well-child exams can be very reassuring. Ask your pediatrician to review the growth chart. If your 18-month-old is gaining weight properly, chances are there is little reason for concern. Once the growth has been determined to be normal, a few more probing questions are warranted.
What foods does your child dislike? Keep a list and look for common themes. Is there a consistency or temperature aversion? How about the texture? Perhaps your child is often constipated, seems nauseous, has diarrhea or complains of tummy discomfort. Such symptoms may clue you into lactose intolerance, a food allergy, reflux or some other medical condition that requires attention. Rarely, large tonsils might even cause gagging that can lead to a food aversion.
When in doubt, keep a food diary. Writing down a food history for one week can be very helpful. Food diaries help to narrow down infrequent associations. Items such as eggs, dairy or gluten may appear as common themes among your toddler’s dislikes. Once suspected, further testing by your child’s pediatrician can help determine if an allergy exists.
If your child is simple picky and no medical condition exists, there are a few things to keep in mind. Praise works better than force. Food should be fun. Repeated offerings on multiple occasions help increase the odds of your child trying something new. Ten or more attempts are often needed before breaking that barrier. If they see a playmate eating what you are trying to offer, even better. My daughter absolutely loves salmon. We were out to dinner once with a five-year-old friend who was “picky.” My daughter ordered a salmon chowder and coaxed him, the worlds pickiest boy, to try some. He loved it. I’m fearful carrots may still be a total loss for him. Time will tell.
Should your child completely refuse something, fear not. Chances are you too are just as picky. Simply reset your expectations. Feel comfortable knowing your child is growing well and obtaining appropriate nutrients despite their selective nature. Be consistent in making good choices and don’t stop offering them despite the reaction from your child. If your toddler is hungry, something among the few choices on the plate will be appealing. If the plate is pushed away, your child will be that much more hungry by breakfast.
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Copyright 2012 Dr. Carey’s® Baby Care
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