Monday, August 29, 2011

Picky Eaters are Made

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Most anyone who is a parent of a picky eater doesn't want to hear this: Picky eaters are made, not born. On Becoming Pre-Toddlerwise states "Excluding a medical condition, picky eaters are created, not born" (page 61).

Moms I know who are parents of picky eaters are actually typically aware that they have done something along the way to enable the creation of this picky eater situation. Hindsight is 20/20 and they can see where they should have done things differently.

Now, all children do come with their pre-dispositions. Some children are naturally more cautious with food than others. But you can absolutely do things to help your child be as adventurous as she can be. 

It is important to note the caveat in the quote above: "Excluding a medical condition." If your child has or had reflux, there is an excellent chance she will be at least slightly picky. Many reflux children see food as more of an enemy that causes pain. There are also lots of foods that irritate reflux symptoms. 

Kaitlyn had reflux as a baby and without question is my most picky eater. She never has liked citrus foods (like oranges or tomatoes) and doesn't care for berries (they also create reflux problems). However, she tries these foods often. She will even try them several times in one day (like when it is raspberry season and the whole family is enjoying fresh raspberries). She is willing to try new things and even willing to try old things she has never liked. You could call it picky, but you can also call it smart (avoiding foods that cause pain). So, if your child has any sort of allergy or intolerance for whatever reason to foods, know you have an extra challenge to create a non-picky eater and rightfully so. 

There are things you can do to help create an eater who will eat what is before him.
  1. Don't pass on your prejudices. You will have food issues. You might not like certain foods. You might have an unhealthy relationship with food. Try to not pass these issues on to your child. 
  2. Allow the child to not like foods. Let's be reasonable. Most of us have foods we don't like. There is a children's book called "Eat Your Peas." I can't decide how much I like it because the mom bribes the daughter with all sorts of things to eat her peas. But a great point in the book is when the daughter points out that the mom doesn't like brussel sprouts and therefore doesn't eat them. We all have things we don't like. Brayden doesn't like corn. Strange, but true. Every so often, he tries it to see if he likes it yet. But I don't force him to eat it. He isn't picky and I think we are all entitled to not eat things we don't like. What I won't tolerate is "Yuck" and looks of disgust. 
  3. Try, Try Again. Like I said above, I have my children ocassionally try a food that I know they don't like. You never know when your taste buds will change. There are several foods that have previously been disliked and are now liked. Also, don't give the food once and then give up. Try out the food several times (some say 7-14) before deciding if the child truly likes it or not. 
  4. Try New Foods. Keep your menu interesting. Try new recipes and have your child try the new food. I always have my children try three bites of anything new. I don't have a logical reason for the number three. I just think it sounds fair. Three bites can give you a reasonable idea if you like it or not. Trying new foods will keep your child adventurous.
  5. Feed A Small Amount. When giving a new food, give only a small amount. 
  6. Eat Regular Meals. Snacks can interfere with hunger. A child who is ready for a meal is more willing to try new foods than a child who is satisfied enough because of that snack he ate an hour ago. If you need snack time help, see Snack Time.
  7. Feed Your Food. Feed your child what you are eating for dinner. My most adventurous eater is McKenna. Why? By the time she came around, I stopped deciding for my child if she would like it or not. I tried to keep foods very bland for Brayden so he would appreciate bland food. I think that was a mistake. I think it was far better to feed lots of bold flavors like I did with McKenna. She loves everything. It wasn't a huge blunder; Brayden likes more and more foods all the time and is in no way a picky eater. He just took some time to really like bold flavors. 
  8. Watch the Drinks: Too many drinks can fill a child up to the point of being content to not eat dinner. 
  9. Don't Start a War. You don't want to turn mealtime into a battle ground. 
  10. Don't Feed Snacks Later. If you feed a child snacks after a meal because she was too picky to eat at dinner, you are teaching her she doesn't need to eat her dinner. Keep in mind, snacks are usually more tasty to a child than dinner was. Even if a food at dinner is good to your child, she might hold out for the snack she knows she will get in an hour or two.
These ten tips can help you avoid making a picky eater. Just remember to feed what you are eating, don't over-snack, and keep mealtimes regular and you should be feeding a relatively adventurous eater.

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31 comments:

Nicole said...

Thank you for this post! I will feed my 16 month old daughter a preferred food with a non-preferred/new food, but sometimes she'll eat a bite of the new food, eat all of the preferred food and then want more of the preferred food. For instance, if I let her have her way, she would eat cups of grapes for breakfast but no oatmeal. I tried this, and she became very hungry within the hour, naturally. What would you do?

Thanks!!

Nicole said...

Something that has worked for me: I noticed my daughter is liking more and more seasoning. For instance, a month ago she would eat a veggie plain, now she wants a little salt with it. Just one more thing to consider with an eater that becomes picky.

Tracy said...

I have twins and have fed them both the same way since birth. Neither my husband nor I are picky eaters and I've never done the "short order" thing for the two of them. I serve one dinner. With all that said, my daughter will try anything and likes most that she tries whereas my son is the total opposite. Sometimes it's not the parent's fault and to infer that a mother should have just done something differently seems narrow minded to me.

Maryea {Happy Healthy Mama} said...

I disagree that picky eaters are always a result of parenting. Can a parenting style make some eaters pickier than they would otherwise be? Sure. But is picky eating always a result of parenting decisions or allergies/reflux? No way. I can read your list and say check, check, check! yet my daughter is fairly picky. I think my parenting choices have made her less picky than she could have turned out to be, but I'm convinced her pickiness is something she was born with. I can only make the best of it. I wrote a post about my thoughts on this issue if you are interested:
http://happyhealthymama.com/2011/05/are-good-eaters-born-or-made.html

The B Family said...

My son is 21 months and I have always fed him healthy foods and a good variety. He now refuses to eat certain foods that before he would eat with no issue. We don't give him sugar, he doesn't snack all day, and I still feed him vegetables and whatever we are eating on a daily basis. Most nights he barely eats dinner and is hungry an hour later but we don't let him snack he has to wait until breakfast. I can't force feed him and he isn't open to trying something so what do you suggest. I feel like I did everything to get him used to vegetables and healthy options but he wants nothing to do with it now.

D & H said...

A little while ago I read "Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense" by Ellyn Satter. Although I don't agree with everything in the book, it has a lot of good information and I have found myself following her recommendations more and more and it is working great. Her basic premise is that the parent's job is to offer healthy food at regular mealtimes and snacktimes and the child's job is to decide what they eat (of what is offered) and how much to eat. She believes children know how much food they need and if parents don't make a big deal, children will eat what they need and grow to like a variety of healthy foods. I would recommend it to anyone who is concerned about feeding their child or who has mealtime issues.

Stan and Becky said...

My daughter has always been hard to get to eat. I do give little snacks that are healthy, but never enough to interfere with a hardy appetite for meals. My rule at mealtime is that my kids have to finish their plate. That being said, I try to never put more than I know they can handle. My son always finishes his plate and asks for seconds and thirds (he's 21 months) whereas my daughter always has trouble finishing (she's 39 months). After the meal is finished we always have fruit for dessert (I rarely give any form of sugar or processed food. Only whole foods). Somehow when everyone except my daughter has something like mango for dessert, she suddenly is hungry and will finish her plate so she can have some too. She's not picky, she just doesn't like to eat. I tried many things like saving the same plate for another meal, having the mindset that kids eat when they are hungry, etc. The only thing that has worked for us is allowing fruit for dessert only when she either eats everything or makes a serious effort.

juliane2004 said...

Your last point says not to feed snacks later, if dinner was not eaten.

What do you recommend, then? Feed the same supper as the "snack"? I can't imagine putting my daughter down for bedtime at night if she hasn't eaten anything since lunch.

Thoughts?

Rachel Stella said...

This is one of the few areas we disagree on. But I suppose there has to be something we disagree on since we are different people ;) I'm more in the mindset of what Maryea said. That is what I noticed in my large family growing up and what I've seen elsewhere. Environment goes a long with with children, but they will always have their personality they are born with.

Juliane2004,
My son only gets water, sometimes milk, if he doesn't eat his meal. Kids really do survive without a meal! I really think that a snack to make up for no food eaten at a meal is the cause of many of the food problems parents face. Maybe it's fine if you offer them the same meal they refused earlier, but something else they prefer over the previous meal is a huge no no in my book. This, of course, is assuming your child isn't sick or something--I made exceptions for this.

Rachel Stella said...

Valerie,
I was curious what tips you have for making a child try food without turning mealtime into a miserable experience and a battle field. (#9) I know this is a big difficulty for many parents out there (myself included at times). And I'm talking about the really stubborn child, not the one you encourage a few times and then they do it, or you discipline them several times and they do it etc.

Thanks!

Stan and Becky said...

One thought on picky eaters: make sure there's no food intolerances. I was a picky eater from day one, but it turned out that I cannot tolerate dairy or gluten. That cuts out a ton. Until I knew that I seriously never had an appetite. I wasn't trying to be picky. But I associated food with pain. It took me years to be able to eat without being afraid of feeling gross. Just make sure really picky eaters aren't actually sick. I didn't complain much about it as a kid probably because most kids cannot explain how they feel.

Plowmanators said...

Nicole, What I do in those instances is have them eat X number of bites of the new food before getting more of the new food. So at that age, I would most likely do one bite, then give a few grapes, then do one bite again, etc.

Another option is to give the new food all alone, then after a good amount has been eaten, give the preferred. But only do this if she eats the new food well--don't make the preferred food contingent upon eating a whole bunch of the new. I don't make a big deal out of it, I just give the favorite food until the new has been eaten. It is almost like I forgot the preferred food until that moment.

Plowmanators said...

Nicole, excellent idea!

Plowmanators said...

Tracy, I am not sure if you are saying I am narrow-minded or if you are directing that to the pre-toddlerwise quote, but if it is me, I will just point out this phrase from the post

"Now, all children do come with their pre-dispositions. Some children are naturally more cautious with food than others. But you can absolutely do things to help your child be as adventurous as she can be."

Plowmanators said...

I agree Maryea--just like this quote (I just quoted)

"Now, all children do come with their pre-dispositions. Some children are naturally more cautious with food than others. But you can absolutely do things to help your child be as adventurous as she can be."

Plowmanators said...

The B Family, this is a normal development with children. They start out (usually) pretty willing to eat whatever you give them. Then they start to actually look at food before they try it. The will totally judge a food on its look without tasting it at all.

If there are fruits and veggies he likes, feed him lots of those. Have him try other foods every so often, also. You eat those foods in front of him and talk about how much you love it (if you do love it). He really will come back out of the super-cautious phase and get more adventurous again. Just stick with your basic rules and it will all be fine.

Plowmanators said...

Thanks D&H. I like that. I think if you offer healthy food, children will want what their body needs.

Plowmanators said...

Good idea for people to try Becky!

Plowmanators said...

Juliane, I agree with Rachel on that. I might save dinner and allow the child to eat that later in the night (but I do not agree with saving the meal for every meal for days--just for dinner that night).

Plowmanators said...

Thanks for that Becky! Great thing for parents to think about.

Plowmanators said...

Rachel,

One thing I did is from the time the child started eating as a baby I would require them to take so many bites. I did this with Brayden even. I wanted him to start out being used to eating what I asked him to. So for my kids, it hasn't ever been a real issue.

When there is resistance, I stay pretty nonchalant about it. I usually do things like not allow seconds of something until so many bites were eaten.

My number of bites usually range from 1-3, even for the older children. One bite is pretty reasonable.

You can make it fun for the child--like doing a choo-choo train as the spoon and their mouth as the tunnel. You can also do pretending games (like one of the -wise books describes as pretending the broccoli is the soldiers fighting that need to get inside).

Sometimes with Kaitlyn, I will use dessert. I tell her if she wants dessert, she needs to eat her bites of XYZ. She always wants dessert, so she will do it. And I phrase it like, "That's fine. You don't have to eat it, but if you want dessert, then you need to eat this first."

Jill Duggan said...

This is an eye-opener post. Many parents can relate on the fact that "picky eaters are made not born". And it is good to hear that they can work out on the situation. Thanks to the helpful advice.

Jill Duggan

lcluff said...

I grew up a very picky eater who is mostly reformed as I got older and finally tried new foods. I have a 12 month old and 3 year old that are both good eaters. Some is luck, and some is what we have done. Food is a non-issue in our house. I pretty much always serve a couple components to a meal (main dish and veggie and/or fruit and milk) so even if they don't eat all of it, they will eat some. If they don't eat, they don't eat. I never force them and don't offer something else later. I do make them stay at the table (or highchair) while we eat though and usually they end up eating it. If my 3 year old says he doesn't like something, I just calmly say "guess you're going to be hungry" and leave it at that. He pretty much always ends up eating it, and if he doesn't I don't stress about it.

I think a lot of success has to do with not waiting too long to let your babies eat "real" food. Both my kids were pretty much done with pureed baby food by 9 months. I let them feed themselves pretty mcuh everything, no matter how messy (with yogurt being pretty much the only exception). That way they get used to eating things with different textures and sauces early on.

My brother always has his kids take 3 "thank you bites" I really like that idea. He teaches them that people put effort into making you food and you need to try at least 3 bites to show your appreciation.

Plowmanators said...

Thanks for your ideas lcluff! We do three bites often, also. I like calling them "thank you" bites!

Lindsay said...

I have been reading your blog since my daughter was born, it has been a lifesaver at times! My daughter is 27 months old and has always been a great eater. She usually eats anything and everything we give her. She has NEVER been picky at all, until about 2 weeks ago she has done a complete 180 and will hardly eat anything. When we set her plate down on the table she automatically gets upset and starts saying "all done" and pushes her plate away. She will pick the cheese off the top of casseroles or pick beans out of a dish but refuses to take "normal" bites. Like I said she has never been like this and I am at a loss. She has been eating breakfast pretty good most days but lunch and diner are a struggle. We don't usually eat snacks so I know she isn't getting full from snacks. Any suggestions?

Plowmanators said...

I would guess she is either having some normal development when the child starts to think about food or just eat it. In that case, you would want to at least have her try one bite of food you give her. You don't want it to be a batte, but you don't want her to cut her foods down to nothing.

It also could be 2 year molars coming in. That is actually what I would think first.

Stephanie K said...

I'm fairly certain I created a finicky eater because I wasn't really thinking about how giving my almost 3 year old daughter the same foods for breakfast and lunch each day was affecting her tastes. In any case, now we have hell to deal with, and I was wondering what your suggesting would be in getting her to where she needs to be. I can offer her bits of things--we've done that before--but I'm worried about her getting the nutrition she needs. She does like fruit at least.

Stephanie K said...

by bits I meant bites.

Laura said...

My 13 month old daughter used to eat everything i fed her. She is mostly on solid foods and seemed to like everything but carrots. Over the past few weeks, she has started refusing to eat all veggies. She won't even take a single bite of it. If I feed it to her, she instantly spits it out. I've tried offering her 3 different vegetables (and only veggies) at mealtime. She won't eat at all. Then I keep offering it to her for snack and dinner. I keep trying to offer varieties of veggies, but she refuses. She will skip lunch and dinner and not eat, but then cry (because i'm assuming she's hungry). I have no idea what to do.

Valerie Plowman said...

Is it possibly a texture issue? Like--if you are feeding her purées, does she want the food in a more real form? Or would she like to feed herself?

Valerie Plowman said...

Or maybe she is teething?

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