National Nutrition Month – Picky Eating

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March is National Nutrition Month!

In lieu of National Nutrition Month, we thought we would share key information and a few tips on picky eating!

At GI for Kids, we commonly see children and parents with complaints of picky eating. This can range from slight resistance to trying new foods and reluctance to eating fruits and vegetables to more significant feeding difficulties resulting in a lacking diet and weight loss. Most young children tend go through a picky eating phase in the toddler years.  A typical picky eater may prefer certain foods but will eventually try new foods. They will typically continue to grow and gain weight appropriately. Sometimes children have increased picky eating which could result in a Pediatric Feeding Disorder (PFD).  A PFD is a more severe and persistent condition which may be accompanied by feeding difficulties and slow growth or weight loss. This may look like going several meals without eating if not offered preferred foods, consistently dropping/eliminating foods that were previously enjoyed, and only eating around 10 foods.

Children who are typical picky eaters will often respond well to structured mealtimes and frequent, consistent exposure to new foods. A child with a PFD may require more aggressive treatment such as supplemental beverages and feeding therapy. For most children, new foods are unfamiliar and require time and practice to develop a preference for them.  Frequent, consistent exposure to new foods is very important. It is crucial to avoid pressuring your child and remain patient. Your role as the parent is to consistently expose your child to various foods without coercion. Exposure may include gradually observing, tasting, and eventually incorporating the food into their diet regularly. The ultimate objective is to foster a relaxed and positive atmosphere during mealtime and have a broad acceptance of different foods. With persistence, your child will likely broaden their food choices over time, even if it takes months to years. This idea that the parent is responsible for offering the food and the child is responsible for eating the food is further described below:

  • Ellen Satter’s Division of Responsibility:
    • Do your jobs as a caregiver with feeding and let your child do theirs with eating. 
    • “You are responsible for what, and you are becoming responsible for when and where your child is fed” – Ellen Satter 
    • “Your child is still and always responsible for how much and whether they eat the foods you offer” – Ellen Satter 

It is important to note that this practice is most appropriate for the typical picky eater. Children with PFDs may not respond to this approach. However, with the help of a dietitian and feeding therapist, we can incorporate some aspects of this mindset to hopefully promote a healthy relationship with food in the future.

 

Below are some tips for help with your picky eater!

  • Tips and Tricks
    • Be creative – cut sandwiches, French toast, pancakes, etc. with a fun shaped cookie cutter. Your child may be willing to try a food if it has a different temperature, shape, color, or texture.
    • Let your child help with preparing meals – having your child help with cooking will increase exposure to new foods. If your child becomes comfortable with touching and smelling new foods, they may be more willing to taste them. 
    • Create a positive and happy environment during mealtimes – Avoid pressuring your child to eat. 9 out of 10 parents pressure their children to eat. Do not bribe or reward children for eating or not eating.
    • Have a routine with mealtimes – Provide 3 meals & 2-3 snacks each day. Children should eat meals at the same time each day. Mealtime should be at the table with no distractions. The child should eat in the same chair or same spot each meal. Family mealtimes have shown to improve eating behaviors. 
    • Only give water between meals to prevent your child from filling up. 
    • When planning a grocery shopping trip, have children help make the menu and stick to the menu.
    • Have a quiet time before meals to let children calm down – they will eat better. 

 

Keep in mind that each child is unique, requiring experimentation to discover effective strategies for overcoming picky eating habits. Remain patient, steadfast, and optimistic, as with time, your child may become more willing to explore a wider variety of foods. 

 

Written by Melanie Matarazzo, Dietetic Intern and Madden Wilson, Registered Dietitian

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