Are you a parent of a picky eater? You are not alone! Parents all over the world struggle with the picky eating stage. PHN pediatrician Corinne Brooks, MD offers her advice in the first of a three-part series on child nutrition and food habits.
What common concerns do you get from parents of picky eaters?As parents, we worry about what our children do and don’t eat. Many times, meals turn into a battle of wills. Some kids only eat certain food items for every meal. Other children are afraid to try new foods or refuse to eat certain food groups, such as vegetables. Another common food complaint I hear from parents is that their child is too busy playing or prefers to graze all day instead of sitting still to eat an actual meal. Hearing specific details helps me to provide the best advice for families to make mealtime a more pleasant experience for everyone.
If a child is a picky eater, should the parents be worried about their child getting enough vitamins and nutrients? Instead of focusing on one meal, I encourage parents to look at their child’s diet over the course of a week. Many times when focusing on the big picture, parents realize that their kids get plenty of variety and nutrition in their diets in a week’s time. The goal should be a varied diet; as long as the child eats foods from all the food groups (dairy, protein, grains, vegetables, and fruits), they are likely getting enough vitamins and nutrients. A helpful resource is the USDA’s “Healthy Plate”, which pictures a plate divided into four sections to represent the ideal portions of each food type. For more information, you can visit: https://www.choosemyplate.gov. If you are concerned that picky eating is compromising your child’s growth and development, please consult your pediatrician. He or she can plot your child’s growth on a growth chart to determine if there are any issues. In addition, it would be helpful to keep a food diary for 3 days to include the types and amounts of food your child eats and drinks each day. The big picture might help ease your worries and will also help your child’s doctor identify any problems.
What tips do you have for parents to encourage children to try new foods? If able, I recommend starting healthy eating habits as soon as possible. Eating is a skill that develops over time and is closely linked to different developmental milestones. Infants are reliant on us to recognize their hunger cues and feed them. When kids start on baby food, they may initially make faces and spit out certain flavors. Don’t be discouraged! It can take babies up to 10 times of trying a certain food to develop a taste for it. By age one, children transition from drinking most of their calories from formula or breast milk to eating most of their calories. At this age, they should start to drink from a cup and use a spoon, albeit a messy endeavor. This is the perfect time to start to introduce a wide variety of foods. When children first start eating table food, they will generally try everything. Don’t forget to offer foods that other family members may not like. As children reach age 2, they start to develop some independence in eating and should pretty skillfully be able to feed themselves with a spoon and fork. At this age, they also desire to become independent and want to do everything themselves or “me do” as my daughter used to say. Use this to your advantage! This is also a good time to start teaching them about the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods. Help them understand which foods help fuel their body and give them good energy and nutrients so they grow big and strong.
Corinne Brooks, MD joined PHN in February 2017 and provides pediatric medicine services at Sandy Lake Community Health Center. Dr. Brooks earned her medical degree from the Ohio State University College of Medicine. She has a three-year-old daughter, a pug named Maggie, and being from Cleveland, she is a Cleveland Browns fan!