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Picky Eater

Picky or fussy eating is a common problem in an otherwise healthy toddler or preschooler.  It usually encompasses food refusal.  Common problems of picky eaters include eating a limited amount of food, refusing particular categories of food (fruits and vegetables), preferring to drink over eating solid foods, and having strong food preferences.

A major concern with parents is how picky eating will affect their child’s physical and mental development. Picky eating does not cause major health problems, unless you notice the following red flags. The red flags that should cause concern include pain upon swallowing and in-coordinate swallowing (coughing, choking, or recurrent pneumonia). Any behaviors that indicate interrupted feeding for babies, such as crying, vomiting or diarrhea are also red flags. Other conditions that become present such as eczema, failure to thrive, prematurity, and autism are also red flags . If you see any of the red flags, seek immediate evaluation by a physician.

Why does it occur and how to correct it?

Exposure to different food tastes start from early conception and continues throughout infancy. Infants that have been breastfeed are exposed to a wider range of food tastes than formula fed infants. The variations in taste conferred allows for easier acceptance of new foods later by the child. A child’s acceptance of new food may require repeated exposures of the same food up to 10 times before the child is accustomed to that food taste.

Feeding Tips

The general consensus is to share the responsibility of feeding between the parents and the child.

Parents need to cultivate appropriate eating behaviors by providing a pleasant, distraction-free environment for meals and snacks. Eating together as a family is necessary to foster an environment for successful feeding. The child is responsible for the amount eaten, while the parents need to keep in mind that there are day-to-day variations on the amount.  The following are some current recommendations for feeding.

1. Feed to encourage appetite: serve small meals and snacks at consistent times throughout the day allowing the child to become hungry. Offer nutritional beverages such as milk, juice, soup or water only at the end of the meal. Avoid sodas and other sugary beverages.
2. Avoid distractions: sit together as a family during meals. Avoid television, tablets, electronics, or books at mealtime. Engage the child during meals.
3. Eat together as a family: it promotes bonding and healthy eating.
4. Encourage the child to self-feed: allow for food spillage and age-appropriate messes
5. Introduce new foods one at a time systematically.
6. Limit duration: eating should begin within 15 minutes of the start of the meal, with meals lasting no longer than 20 -30 minutes. When the meal is completed, remove all the food and only offer the food again at the next meal.
7. Offer age-appropriate food with reasonable small helpings: general rule is to offer one tablespoon of new food per year.
8. Maintain a positive attitude by not bringing tension to the dinner table