Inside Your IWK – Parenting Picky Eaters
March is nutrition month. Ask any parent about feeding their little ones and they will likely tell you that the best nutrition for their children is of primary importance. What many will also probably tell you about is the challenges they face getting their kids to eat healthy. How can parents ensure their children are getting the nutrition they need—especially those with “picky eaters”?
IWK dietitian, Pam Ross, and Feeding Specialist Anne Napier Phillips, work with the IWK Feeding Clinic to support parents and children with feeding issues. They shared the following information based on their experience working with countless families.
What is a picky eater?
A picky eater might be described as a child who likes a limited number of foods or a child who eats a wide variety of foods in small amounts.
In our clinics we often see young children (1-2 years old) who are described by their parents as being picky eaters. It is important for parents to remember that growth slows after the first birthday and at this time the appetite often shrinks. Parents often expect children to eat more as they get older, so this normal decrease in appetite may cause stress. This concern often leads to coaxing or bribing at mealtimes.
Sometimes what appears to be picky eating is normal toddler behaviour.
What are some of the common challenges with toddlers who are picky eaters?
We consider picky eaters to include: children who refuse to sit at the table/in their high chair, refuse new foods on their plate, prefer to drink rather than to eat, and those who have trouble with transitioning to more difficult textures.
What are some of the techniques that may help parents of picky eaters?
Make an eating schedule. It is important to offer meals and snacks at regularly scheduled times and limit meal times to no more than 20 or 30 minutes. While it may be challenging, after this time we suggest that parents remove the uneaten food and close the kitchen until the next meal or snack time.
Don’t fill up on fluids. We recommend limiting juice to no more than a half cup each day. We recommend limiting milk as well, especially once the children reach toddler age, to 2-3 cups a day and preferably at mealtimes. Parents might consider providing water between meals for good dental hygiene and overall health.
Don’t be a short order cook! Making separate meals or offering many choices often enables children to become picky eaters. The goal is for the whole family to eat the same meal. Keep in mind, young children may need foods finely diced or mashed, or with less spice.
Keep trying. It is important to realize that children need multiple opportunities to learn to like a new food. It can take 10-20 times of tasting or trying a new food before it will be readily accepted.
When should parents be concerned?
Parents need to feel comfortable when their kids don’t eat well at every meal. It’s okay and perfectly normal.
There should be a concern if the child is losing weight or restricts his/her eating to very limited food groups. In these cases, an oral nutritional supplement or multivitamin may be recommended. Parents should check with their health providers if they are concerned.
For more information about coping with picky eaters:
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