This information has been reviewed and adapted for use in South Carolina by Janis G. Hunter, HGIC Nutrition Specialist, and Katherine L. Cason, Professor, State Program Leader for Food Safety and Nutrition, Clemson University. (New 02/08.)
Are you concerned that your child refuses to eat vegetables or any green food? Sometimes a child won't eat an entire meal if a single green pea is on the plate.
Does your preschooler suddenly react to an all-time favorite food with "No!" or "I don't like this"?
Has your child ever wanted to eat the same food meal after meal? They only want to eat peanut butter sandwiches, yet last week they wanted nothing but grapes and bananas.
Does your child get upset because one food on their plate touches another food?
The preschool years are characterized by bouts of independence. You might think that your child is a picky eater, but their behavior may be an awkward first step in learning to make decisions. This is a natural part of growing up.
Most children go through periods of being finicky eaters. This phase doesn't last long, so treat all of these reactions to foods very casually.
Parents and caregivers need certain skills and techniques to ease mealtime struggles with picky eaters. Even the most finicky eaters can be encouraged to try a few bites of new, different, nutritious foods at every meal.
Follow these tips for handling a picky eater.
Imitation is a powerful force in learning. If you want your child to drink milk or eat their veggies, make sure they see you drinking your milk and eating your veggies.
Buy and try new fruits and vegetables. Always make healthful foods available for snacks as well as meals. Your child soon learns these are the foods in your home and will eventually come to eat and enjoy them.
Drink plenty of water between meals. Eat meals and snacks on a routine schedule. When eating on the run, use grab-and-go containers for convenience.
Make mealtimes pleasant. Turn off the TV and enjoy some good family conversation without arguing. Avoid conflict when handling eating challenges so that your child won't learn to use food as a way to control you.
Most importantly, relax and be patient! Focus your attention on your child's positive eating behavior, not on the food. Avoid criticizing them or calling them a picky eater, because a child believes what you say.
10. Withholding dessert if dinner is refused, or using other foods as a bribe.
9. Expecting a child to sit at the table and eat for longer than 15 minutes.
8. Becoming a "short order cook" to accommodate everyone's food preferences.
7. Catering to a child's narrow choice of foods, then wondering why they do not like or eat a wider variety of foods.
6. Sending inconsistent messages to a child about acceptable food choices, snacks and table manners.
5. Failing to define or set house rules for mealtime behavior.
4. Failing to enforce house rules for mealtime behavior.
3. Worrying that a child will starve or go hungry when they refuse a meal, then giving them junk foods "just so they will eat."
2. Forcing vegetables on a child.
1. Ignoring how feeding responsibilities should be divided. Parents should control the when, where and what of feeding, and children can determine whether or not they will eat a food and how much.
This countdown of mistakes was compiled by Ellyn Satter (registered dietitian and author of several books on feeding children) and extracted from Picky Predicament: at the Koniskys, an All-Too-Common Tantrum Turns Dinner Into a Drama, Jennifer Gish's article in the Albany (NY) Times Union on November 14, 2006.
Preschool-age children may have smaller appetites than toddlers due to a slower rate of growth and development. If left alone, most preschoolers become hearty eaters again when their body's growth pattern requires more food for energy.
Consider what your child eats over several days, not just at one meal. They may eat more food one day and less the next, and most children eat a wider variety of foods than parents realize. If you think your child is eating too much or too little, talk with your doctor, health care provider or a registered dietitian.
Children and adults need the same nutrients but in different amounts. Children also need a certain amount of fat in their diet in order to grow. For more information about children's nutrient needs, refer to HGIC 4011, MyPyramid for Kids.
Nutrients should come from foods. Multivitamin supplements can be given to children, but supplements should not be used as a safety net against unhealthy eating.
Thirty minutes after your child's morning snack, they are cranky, they are crying, and their eyes are swollen. How do you know if they have a food allergy or if they are just acting picky about what they eat?
A food allergy is an abnormal reaction to food, confusing the body's immune system. Within minutes (or in up to two hours) the reaction triggers symptoms that may seem like an illness:
Never try to diagnose a food allergy yourself. If you suspect that your child has a food allergy, take them to your doctor or health care provider. Most allergic reactions are just uncomfortable. However, a small percentage of people have severe reactions that can be life threatening.
This information is supplied with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement of brand names or registered trademarks by the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service is implied, nor is any discrimination intended by the exclusion of products or manufacturers not named. All recommendations are for South Carolina conditions and may not apply to other areas. Use pesticides only according to the directions on the label. All recommendations for pesticide use are for South Carolina only and were legal at the time of publication, but the status of registration and use patterns are subject to change by action of state and federal regulatory agencies. Follow all directions, precautions and restrictions that are listed.