My son is 13 months old and he’s beginning to show signs of picky eating. He’s always been open to trying new foods but now he’s starting to get fussy with what we put on his plate. How can I prevent him from becoming a picky eater?
Research has also found that a child’s food preferences are linked to parents’ preferences. The key to familiarising the child to a group of foods is repeated exposure to new foods — sometimes to more than 10 times over before they would try it. Perseverance is the key to success.
It is also important to be realistic. A mother needs to be in touch with her own expectations about how much their toddler “should” eat. After all the child’s stomach is small, measuring approximately to the size of his clenched fist.
A child’s job is to decide which of these healthy foods to eat and how much to eat. This approach encourages the child to listen to his body signal of hunger, satiety, craving and nausea while making healthy food choices. It also produces fewer power struggles between mother and child around food.
Encourage the child to enjoy a range of foods. Introduce a wild range of mother’s healthy foods to him. While eating, act positively and avoid any negative body language like disgust or disinterest when trying new foods. The child will probably be less willing to try something new if the mother is also a “picky eater”.
What if the child is picky because of sensitivity to taste, smell or texture of the food?
Offer a variety at each meal but avoid those he dislikes. Introduce each gently but frequently with each new kind of foods. Alternatively, mix or immerse food or the preparation he likes (for instance mushy) with food he dislikes (for instance crunchy) or add firm food with dips.
What if he refuses to try new food?
Try put new foods next to foods he likes. Encourage him to touch, smell, lick or taste the new food. Avoid preparing special meals for your child. Give him what the rest of the family is eating but in smaller portions. Once familiar, he may learn to accept. Alternatively, try using healthy dips to mask repulsive tasting foods. To encourage familiarity, involve him in preparing the meal like handling, smelling, touching and cutting the food. This may help him feel comfortable with the idea of eating it later.
What if the child refuses to sit still during mealtime?
Set your child’s meal out before he sits down and keep the mealtime short—about 10 minutes or so. Let your child get up when he indicates he is finished eating.
What if the child binge on one food at a time, often erratically?
Besides being picky, eating can be as erratic as eating one food variety each meal or none at all. So aim for a nutritionally-balanced week, not a balanced day. This is not to say that parents shouldn’t encourage their toddlers to eat well and develop healthy food habits.
Question answered by:
Dr Ang Poon Liat
Thomson Paediatric Centre