Saturday, August 28, 2010

Picky Eating Doesn't Equal Unhealthy Eating


Owen is getting picky. It's a pretty new development, actually, which I've heard is quite normal at 16 months. There are some foods he just won't eat. He tends to be pretty picky with his veggies. But, there are other foods that some days he loves, and the next day he freaks out if it's touching his tray. (Of course, I have a "must-stay-on-your-tray" rule. He doesn't have to eat it, but he can't give it to me or throw it on the floor or stuff it in his seat, etc. He hates this rule so much!)

I think a lot of moms are in the same boat as me. Your one year old has developed some preferences and opinions about how he should eat, and it's very annoying. However, just because your toddler is picky about food, it does not mean that they can't eat healthy! I think one of the big mistakes parents often make when it comes to feeding their toddler is that they substitute the food their child is averse to with a less healthy option. This is especially difficult if your child grows attached one particular "less healthy" food option. From my experience and observation, it seems pretty common for toddlers to grow "attached" to a limited menu of foods, and often these are not the best foods.

So, is there any hope with toddlers? Any parents knows, there is no forcing a toddler to eat anything! I do think there is hope for even the pickiest of toddlers to continue to eat healthy. Here are some of tips (mostly the tips given to me by many veteran moms).

Make all his/her options healthy ones. If you only allow healthy choices for your toddler, beginning in infancy, they will not become attached to those unhealthy foods. If you don't want your toddler demanding McDonald's chicken nuggets at every meal, never introduce them! Or stop feeding them to him. If you only feed your child healthy foods, those foods your child becomes attached to will all be healthy (though no less annoying).

Should you never allow your child a chicken nugget or a cup of ice cream? I'm not saying that. But, those foods should be so rare that they don't become those "attached" foods. Often, your child will become attached to the foods they eat the most. So, feed your child healthy foods the most, and keep the foods you don't want them begging for constantly to a minimum.

Eliminate substitutions. This is a hard one. What do you do when your toddler will not eat? Should you allow them to skip a whole meal? The thought is enough to make a mother's heart ache with guilt.

I'm not saying that you should send your child to bed hungry. But, if you give your toddler his favorite food (even if it's a healthy one) every time he refuses to eat a meal, you'll teach them that they are the boss and can eat whatever they want. You are the parent, and you need to stay in charge.

So, what's a mom to do? Try pairing a favorite food and a new food at each meal. If your toddler refuses to eat the new food, at least he's not starving to death. Also, try to introduce a new food during at least one meal a day, but not all three meals. Try combining a favorite food with a new food. For example, if your child won't eat yogurt but loves grapes, combine the yogurt and grapes. If your child won't eat broccoli but loves chicken, make a chicken broccoli casserole. There are lots of ways to coax your child into food exploration. Toddlers are sneaky, and you can be too. ;)

Eat what your toddler eats. Try to eat what your toddler eats as much as possible. If your toddler is eating yogurt, you eat yogurt. If your toddler is eating peas, you eat peas. It's important for your child to see you enjoying the same foods. Be happy while you eat. Eat as a family. Say the food names in silly voices and have fun eating. Toddlers want to be like you, and that includes eating like you.

Don't expect too much from your child. Your toddler will probably not be a perfect eater. He probably won't eat everything you put in front of him. He won't want to eat everything all the time. There will be foods that he just doesn't like. You are the same way. I don't want to eat bananas every day. Some days, I want an apple or an orange. I don't like every vegetable or meat. Why should we expect our kids to be different from us? Recognize that your toddler is an individual. He will prefer certain foods and dislike others. All you can hope for is to instill a love of real food, an open mind, and a healthy appetite.

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