While some of us may describe children as either “good” or “picky” eaters, many toddlers develop a preference for a limited variety of low-nutrient dense foods, preferring sugary or salty empty calorie foods to proteins, fiber-filled vegetables, and fruits. To a certain extent, it’s normal for very young children to have aversions to certain foods largely due to their perceptions of the texture, color, taste or smell of individual foods. When infants first start eating solid foods, many will eat or at least try different foods offered to them. However, once a toddler reaches two years of age, around 50% will develop eating preferences with specific likes and dislikes, and may refuse foods they have previously eaten or decline to try new foods. Many parents worry about their child’s nutrition or lack thereof, especially when children refuse to eat all but very few foods. While children who eat well one day and practically nothing the next may worry a doting parent, it’s natural for a two-year old’s appetite to be erratic.
It’s best not to get into a power struggle over food, as for the majority of toddlers fussy eating is a fleeting stage. It may help parents to know that according to guidelines from the Institute of Medicine, toddlers actually require less calories per pound than infants. Yet, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found that up to 85% of parents admitted to pushing their children to eat more by praising or rewarding children for taking a “few more bites.” For frustrated parents, changing a child’s eating patterns takes time, patience and strategies. The long term goal is to raise a healthy eater, so put the focus on helping a child learn to like vegetables rather than stressing over whether or not they eat their broccoli today.
- Set an example by eating healthy meals yourself. Let your child see you enjoy your food and maintain a neutral attitude throughout the meal. Make mealtimes pleasant and avoid distractions, such as TV or cellphones. As much as possible, be consistent about meal and snack times.
- The least amount of fuss you make the better. Encourage, but don’t force your child to eat or punish when they don’t. This behavior can result in anxiety, obesity and other eating disorders, which can have lifelong consequences.
- Plate a very small amount of food you would like your child to try. Start small by serving just a few peas or two strawberries and don’t make a fuss if the child doesn’t eat it. Present the food again in a systematic way at another time. Keep at it and at some point your child will decide to try it.
- Children like to participate and make their own choices. Let the kids choose some vegetables or fruits at the grocery store and don’t be persuaded to buy unhealthy processed foods or snacks. Get them involved as much as possible in helping and preparing meals. Create a snack box with healthy snacks kids like, such as small boxes of raisins, dried fruit, or cereal bars that kids can access on their own at appropriate times.
- Serve fruit, yogurt or other healthy foods as dessert and select a special night or two each week for sweet desserts.
As parents work through the process of transforming a picky eater into a more adventurous and inclusive one, deficiencies can be addressed through supplementation of micronutrients, and small dietary changes that a child might accept. Parents can try adding a serving of protein powder to a smoothie and switch from refined grains to whole grains to add fiber to the diet. A study that compared picky eaters and non-picky eaters found deficiencies of folate and vitamin E in both groups. Additionally, they found picky eaters to be deficient in calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins A, C, D, B1 (thiamine) and B3 (niacin). Children require sufficient amounts of vitamins and minerals for growth, development, bodily functions and overall wellness. Parents of children without adequate nutrition should continue to support and guide their child toward healthier eating and should consider providing a daily age-appropriate multivitamin and mineral supplement.
There are, of course, always exceptions. When a child’s refusal to eat continues and gets in the way of normal living, there may be an underlying medical condition, such as digestive issues, food allergies, or hypersensitivities. Short term picky eating is normal, long term finicky eating may be a sign that all is not well. Rejection of entire food groups, anxiousness about food, refusing to eat unfamiliar foods despite hunger, or an actual repulsion in regards to food are signs of Selective Eating Disorder, which can follow children into adulthood. When a child gets upset or anxious about food, or the pickiness escalates or continues as the child moves from toddlerhood to childhood, or when eating habits hinder a child’s social life, a visit to a health professional or a referral to a dietician may be in order.
Professional Supplement Center carries these and other high quality kid friendly vitamins to support your child’s nutritional needs and overall wellness:
Ultra Preventive Kids – These great tasting chewables are designed for children aged 4 and older and are carefully formulated to contain correct proportions of highly absorbable vitamins, minerals, and trace elements. Available in natural grape or natural orange flavors. Sweetened with purified stevia and xylitol. Gluten and soy free, vegetarian formulation.
Kids Complete by SmartyPants Vitamins – These yummy gummies provide appropriate doses of bioavailable key nutrients often missing from diet. Designed by parents and doctors for their own picky eaters without artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. Natural orange, lemon and cherry flavors. Lightly sweetened with organic cane sugar. Gluten free, Non-GMO formulation.
Junior Nutrients by Pure Encapsulations – This comprehensive, hypoallergenic formula is designed for teens and children aged 4 and up. The small easy-to-swallow capsules provide nutrient rich, highly bioavailable vitamins, minerals and trace elements. Gluten free, Non-GMO vegetarian formulation.
Kid’s One Daily by MegaFood – These convenient mini-tablets provide 24 essential nutrients to support healthy growth and development. Formulated with FoodState Nutrients™ and an organic FoodState® Farm Fresh Fruit Blend with protective antioxidants and no added sweeteners. Gluten, soy and lactose free, Non-GMO vegetarian formulation.
Children’s nutrition: 10 tips for picky eaters. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/childrens-health/art-20044948
Proven Strategies for Picky Eaters. http://www.parents.com/recipes/nutrition/picky-eater-strategies/
Why You Should Worry About Picky Eaters. http://time.com/3981050/picky-eating-health-risks/
Are You a Picky Eater? http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-are-you-picky-eater-blame-genes-brains-and-breast-milk-180953456/?no-ist
How Much Does My Kid Need to Eat? http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/why-are-you-picky-eater-blame-genes-brains-and-breast-milk-180953456/?no-ist
How to Handle Picky Eaters. http://www.parenting.com/article/picky-eater-kids
Is Picky Eating an Eating Disorder? Living With Selective Eating Disorder and No Vegetables. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bustle/picky-eating-an-eating-disorder-living-with-selective-eating-disorder-and-no-vegetables_b_4986010.html
Picky Eating in Childhood. http://blog.designsforhealth.com/blog/picky-eating-in-childhood?utm_campaign=Weekly+Science+Update&utm_source=hs_email&utm_medium=email&utm_content=33157581&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9nNv2vvEu7TU67LHZkJW5W3lS1-LAcvmtQ6CsV6go1MA6WhhtlBVAGWdNrvwAnx-tKN32V6MjI0yjY8CtYsUqjMNOf8J60hn8At12stHzejfonwMw&_hsmi=33157581