Table food: remember how exciting it used to be for baby and you? During her first year, she sucked down jar after jar of pureed green beans, sweet potatoes and chicken a la king. And with a big, bright smile on her face. You clapped and cheered, feeling certain that she — with her diverse palate, would one day write reviews for high-profile culinary magazines. But now into her toddler and preschool years, she will only eat red foods, and only on Tuesdays — and only if it is raining. Aside from scratching “food critic” off the list of potential careers, how can a parent deal with a picky eater?
The Biology of Picky Eating
First, know that picky eating is completely natural for this age group, according to the Dr. Sears web site. Now that your toddler or preschooler is past the typical weight-tripling of his first year, food is several notches lower on his priority list. His body is growing more slowly, but he’s constantly on the go. So much to explore. So little time. Who has time for food when there is this big world out there? So his rights to the Picky Eater Club are biologically indisputable. But at the same time, parents will notice a direct correlation between empty tummies and high tempers. In order to address this picky-eating pitfall, consider the following suggestions.
Safe and Healthy Foods
Most importantly, avoid foods that present a choking hazard. The American Academy of Pediatrics reminds us that basic chewing skills aren’t fully developed in children until the age of 4, so soft foods served in small pieces will be your safest bets. On the other hand, while tiny marshmallows also happen to fit those parameters, they aren’t healthy. Favor fruits and vegetables cut to size, as well as foods that are steamed or baked, not fried.
Whether it’s red foods on rainy Tuesdays or pasta with butter every night of the week, serve additional options alongside your child’s regular standbys. Offer your toddler a sense of control over a snack or meal by letting her choose between broccoli and peas, or between breakfast or dinner food, regardless of the time of day. Jazz up ordinary foods with small bowls of accompanying condiments, such as sauces, spreads and dips.
A Sense of Fun
Any food critic worth her salt will tell you that presentation is key, and your toddler or preschooler will agree. Experiment with unconventional serving holders, such as ice cube trays or toy kitchen plates. Arrange foods to form a simple shape, pattern or face. Take advantage of nature’s brilliant color palette by making a rainbow out of various vegetables and fruit. A little creativity on your part might inspire an appetite in your child. And perhaps that career as a food critic won’t be written out of her future, after all.
Recall the old expression, “This too shall pass.” For serious concerns requiring your child’s diet or weight, consult your family physician. Otherwise, remain patient with the persnickety rules and habits of your little picky person. Over time, and with consistent presentation of a healthful and tasty range of foods, your toddler or preschooler will likely evolve into an insatiable, non-discriminating eating machine — also known as a teenager.