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You might seem like you're on an island with your kiddo who won't eat anything. You might feel guilty and constantly ask yourself if picky eating is normal. We're here with good news. The short answer is yes and it's not your fault. But let's get into the long answer.
Blanca Garcia, RDN Nutrition Specialist of Healthcanal, has seen what picky eating can do, working hands on with kids from 15 months to five years old. She says picky eating is totally normal and very common. Usually, by the age of two, a child is starting to speak, developing what they like and don’t like. They also start to realize a sense of self and the word "no".
It's important to prepare yourself for the long haul, but know that even the extremely picky child can learn to eat what you eat (which is why it's important to model healthy eating). Some children are just extremely skeptical, require more time to learn and have more to learn when it comes to new foods. Some children also have a genetic basis for food preference, meaning they can more easily detect bitter tastes in foods or they may be more tuned in to sweet flavors. Researchers looked at the habits of children ages 4 to 9, and found that picky eaters tended to stay picky. That means that we as parents need to start early to prevent picky eating, preferably before our child turns 2. We'll list some tips below.
Here's some good news. According to the Satter Division of Responsibility (sDOR) in Feeding, children have the natural ability to eat. They eat as much as they need, they grow in the way that is right for them, and they learn to eat the food their parents eat.
The Division of Responsibility for Infants:
The Division of Responsibility for babies making the transition to family food:
The Division of Responsibility for toddlers through adolescents:
What we don't realize is that we can create picky eaters. Even children who have temperamental or neurological barriers are able to learn to eat foods their parents eat, IF a regular and unpressured eating environment is provided. We provide a wide variety of foods for the child to choose from and we do not pressure children in any way to eat. We don't praise, remind, reward, applaud or withhold a reward if your child eats a certain food. This is where sDOR comes in. Parents do the what, when and where of feeding, and let the children do the how much and whether of eating. It's also crucial that we don't limit the amount of food we put in front of them because this takes away their opportunity to learn about a new food.
Blanca also shared some helpful tips with us. When feeding a child, it’s very important to always provide a variety of foods at every meal. If your child does not eat it, it’s okay. A child just needs to be exposed to foods, as it takes about 10 times for a child to see the food before willing to try it. Help your child by allowing them to choose what to eat from their plate, a few bites are so much better than none at all.
To wrap this all up, here are ten action items to help your picky eater.
Picky Eaters vs. Problem Feeders (Dr Kay A. Toomey (2010)