Many toddlers and children are finicky . This often begins around two, when the child is becoming more autonomous. In an effort to get the child to eat, parents can start cooking special meals, and coaxing the child to eat. This can escalate into a battle of wills. Neophobia (hating to try new things) is common. As time goes on, the parents start offering the child more of their preferred foods, and over time the child’s diet becomes more limited. Also many children are given snacks, like crackers and juice through the day, further diminishing hunger signals at mealtime.
In a recent talk to pediatricians, Dr. Benny Kenzer, a gastroenterologist from Washington DC made some recommendations:
- Keep trying a new food at least ten times, not three or four. Offer it in small, non threatening amounts.
- Act as a model, and eat the food yourself.
- Remain neutral. Don’t act overexcited nor disappointed if the child doesn’t eat.
- Try to get the child to develop hunger signals. Plan meals far enough in time so that the child develops some hunger.
- Offer water, but avoid juices and snacks in between meals.
- Avoid distractions like TV during meals.
- Try to maintain a sense of calm. Don’t let family members argue at the table.
- Avoid “meal disorganization” , such as rushing back and forth from the table to get things for the kids, having the parents serve the kids instead of sitting down and eating with them.
- Avoid having the meal last too long.
Despite your best efforts, there will still be some children who are very finicky. Some kids try everything, and others are more sensitive to different textures. They don’t like the feel of certain fabrics, hate getting wet or cold, and don’t like going to the beach where sand gets into everything. However, you can still try to gently broaden their repertoire and make meal times a relaxing part of the day.