I met Dr. G. at Bloggy Boot Camp last month in Philadelphia the very first night of the conference. She was so sweet and very knowledgeable. Not to mention she has four boys and still manages to stay sane! As a professional who works with kids with various feeding problems, I always look to other professionals when I’m puzzled about a patient. I thought it would be helpful to hear from a pediatrician on the topic of picky eaters.
Q:My 2 year old is extremely picky and sometimes won’t eat anything I cook at mealtime. I feel frustrated with the mealtime battles. What can I do to encourage better eating habits and a more varied diet? Help!
A:Oh, you are not alone. The toddler years are the most common time for these battles, and the reason has nothing to do with food! What? That’s right. You are fighting the basic development of toddlerhood.
Does your child love to have the same few bedtime stories every night? Want to watch the same movie or TV episode over and over again? Listen to the same music? Love to have the exact same routine every bedtime? For the same reason that your baby would throw a sippy cup and watch you pick it up 183 times without getting bored, our kids love repetition at this age.
When your child wants to eat the same three foods, it isn’t because he is an inherently picky eater. It is because he wants to know exactly how his food will taste before he eats it! Kids this age Do. Not. Like. Unpredictability.
So what can you do? Well, you can feed him macaroni and cheese, fruit and cereal every meal for the next 1-5 years, OR… you can teach him to handle a little change.
When you are planning a meal, you probably think about 3 parts. Vegetable (half the plate), protein (1/4 of the plate) and starch (1/4 of the plate) are great guidelines.
Here is the trick: don’t ever introduce more than one “suspicious” food per meal. Want your child to eat a vegetable she’s never seen or has seen but thinks she doesn’t like? Match it with a starch and protein that she is totally comfortable eating.
Then (and here is the really controversial part)… don’t argue! Your child does not have to eat that new food. However… if she wants seconds on either the protein or the starch, she is going to have to try the new food. How much she tries is up to you (a bite, a few bites, all of it), but she doesn’t get any seconds until she has met your requirement for the new food. You don’t need to argue with her at all!
Arguing makes many toddlers focus on the power struggle. Remove the power struggle. You will not give any seconds unless he tries the new food, but you will also not make him sit at the table until he eats it, beg him to eat it, bribe him to eat it or yell at him to eat it.
What if she refuses the entire meal?! Your child will not starve. Let her know that this is the only food available to eat until (the next meal) and that you will save this plate in the fridge in case she changes her mind later. Don’t give other foods or snacks in an hour!
The way to stop the battle is to stop having the battle. Don’t be worried that your child is wasting away from the lack of seconds on pasta, or even the lack of dinner entirely. Kids are very practical. When we hold firm and eliminate the drama, they start eating more.
Be strong – this does not last forever!
Dr. G (Deborah Gilboa, MD) is a board certified Family Physician, international parenting speaker and founder of AskDoctorG.com. You can ask her questions and see what other parents are asking on her website, or engage in great parenting conversation on Facebook or Twitter. If you have an organization looking for a speaker, get in touch here!