Try This…Not That! What works Better for Baby and You!
- Be Patient. Sometimes it’s Best not to keep pressuring your child to eat certain foods.
- Be Consistent. Try offering a variety of foods over a longer period of time
- Give it Time. It Can take over 25 times for a child to try and taste food before it becomes part of their daily meal plan.
- Tune In! Pay attention to the colors your child likes. Buy and Prepare foods of those colors, prepared in easy kid-friendly ways!
- Keep Growing. See What’s Cooking at Mama’s for more Kid Friendly Cooking Ideas and tips!
Oh C’mon! Why Wont You Eat That? Real Talk about Toddlers and Nutrition….
Food Selectivity & Food Sensory in Healthy Toddlers: How to Tell The Difference?
Laura Lynn Iacono MS, RD-Pediatric Nutritionist
Early childhood is a period when children experience new foods, tastes, and textures. Parents of toddlers and young children often describe their children as “picky eaters”, refusing to try or eat a variety of foods. Picky eating is not uncommon and can be age-appropriate among young children who are typically developing. However, the extent of that pickiness if severe can result in nutritional deficiencies affecting normal growth and development over time. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your child is getting enough nutrient-rich foods to meet his or her daily energy and nutrition needs.
Hmmm…So you are probably saying to yourself now, ok how do I do that? Good question?
When it comes to eating at the dinner table, this can be a challenge. It is not uncommon to hear a parent say “if she eats a yogurt, I’m happy or if he takes a few bites of his broccoli, potatoes or meat that is good enough at least it’s something right? Or if he or she is hungry a little later they can eat their favorite snack before bedtime? Perhaps this sounds like you?
Do you go off wondering if this consistent kind of eating is really ok for your child? If so, here are some ways below that may help you determine what kind of eater your child is and if there is a problem?
Distinguish what Type of Eater your child is?
There are two types of eaters when it comes to nutritional therapy:
- The first type is what I call a “Picky Eater.” Picky eaters are clinically defined as children who have a healthy attitude towards food and incorporate more than 30 foods in their repertoire. These are children who will eat a decent amount of fruits, vegetables, lean meats, some dairy or dairy alternative, etc. Their “pickiness” is generally caused more by behavioral problems rather than sensory issues. Allowing your child to go too long without eating, eat too frequently(graze) or not eat enough of a variety of foods at a meal can cause drops or spikes in blood sugar, affect energy levels and alter internal hunger cues that can result in mood and behavior changes in your child.
- On the flip side, some children are what I call “Problem Feeders.” Problem feeders are children who have less than 20 foods in their repertoire. This is generally due to either hypersensitivity or a hypo-sensitivity issue.
Eating differences between Hypo and Hypersensitive eaters
Problem feeders encounter special challenges at the dinner table. Typically, these children have a hypersensitive sense of smell and will gravitate towards foods that are blander and or only eat foods from one food group. These foods include chicken, bread, pasta, more “white types of foods”. Something that may taste normal to you or me, does not, in fact, taste normal for a child with hyper-sensory issues. The smell of the particular food may be overwhelming which would have a negative impact on taste as well. The utter thought or mention of some foods can be scary to them. If the food was introduced with a negative association or connotation the child may avoid it all together based on a bad experience. Sometimes when children are sick and vomit a particular food, they never want to eat it again, as they may think that the particular food made them sick which is more often not the case and the food can be reintroduced at a later time when the child is feeling much better and no longer sick.
Children who are more hypersensitive tend to gravitate more towards foods that are stimulatory. They may enjoy spicy foods like hot sauce, wings, pepper, etc. These foods are actually beneficial because they are stimulatory to the brain. In addition, a variety of ethnic foods can be introduced such as; Mexican, Indian, Greek and or Italian
Tips for Sensory Sensitive Eaters:
Kids with sensory issues may be more adventurous in their eating if allowed to make their own food, separate food or to create shapes out of their food. Anabel Karmel has some excellent books which teach you to get your children involved with cooking. This type of involvement will also allow your child to develop maturity around smelling, tasting and touching food. Another great book is Ruth Yaron’s Super Baby Food. Even if not for babies, there are many excellent recipes for children with food sensory issues. Finally, Food Chaining is another excellent book that can help you if you feel you need more insight and understanding about your child gravitating toward being a picky or problem feeder. Should you feel your child’s nutritional status, height, weight and continued growth and development are at risk, contact your child’s pediatrician and or a pediatric dietitian for further guidance and intervention.
Some ideas for sensory-friendly foods that your child may like:
- Depending on your child’s food texture preference. Serve either soft foods made using a food processor like creamy chicken salad or vegetables and proteins hidden in dips or for those who like a crunchy texture, serve fresh raw vegetables vs cooked or baked potato wedges instead of mashed potatoes. You can also add healthy ingredients into breads and muffins. However, I don’t recommend sneaking or hiding foods in other foods your child eats as that may teach them to distrust you in some way and possibly refuse foods that they do like for fear of getting something mixed in that they don’t like at that juncture in time.
- Let your child pick the condiment! Sometimes it helps to temper overwhelming smells or textures with a sauce or condiment of choice. This will give your child some control and help to introduce new foods while being paired with something familiar.
- If your child is color picky when it comes to eating? Try asking your child in general, what their five favorite colors are and then buy those colored foods and prepare them in a kid-friendly way that your child would desire. If your child likes some food groups mixed together Smoothies are also a great alternative and can be made to be a preferred color using fruits like berries or greens like spinach. You can also encourage new colors with a game using a chart to introduce new colors and reward accordingly.
It’s best to stop pressuring your child to eat new foods and instead encourage your child to explore new foods at his or her own pace. It can take your child up to 25 times to try and taste food prepared in different ways before adopting it into their daily meal plan. This will allow him or her to have more control which will ultimately lead to the development of healthy eating habits. Be patient and consistent over time when offering new foods to your child to try.