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Dealing with Picky Eaters
By Dr. Sally Robinson and Dr. Keith Bly

Almost every child goes through a stage where he or she is picky about food. You can’t force a child to eat, but luckily picky eating usually improves as a child gets older. It can be frustrating when your child wants to eat the same thing every day or suddenly decides that he or she hates food that they have been eating over and over again for the last few weeks - but it's not uncommon.

A child’s growth slows down considerably after the first year and their body requires fewer calories. Often children develop a taste for certain foods that they will want to eat often and then suddenly they don’t want that particular food anymore. Children establish a certain amount of independence through meal time because once they start feeding
themselves, they can choose what they are going to eat. Their refusal to eat what you put on their plate may actually have less to do with the food and more to do with the need to show this independence and test your authority. This is why pressuring your child to eat certain foods may backfire.

Your child may not eat three complete and well-balanced meals a day. Most toddlers will only eat two full meals and their appetite will lessen later in the day. Though you may not feel that your child is not eating enough, children are generally good at knowing what their body needs.

A child may be picky by nature, but there are things you can do to encourage your child to try at least a few bites of nutritious food at each meal.

*Don’t offer a big snack after school.

*Don’t offer bribes or rewards for eating.

*Offer smaller portions of food on your child’s plate.

*Don’t talk about dieting in front of your child, especially if he or she is over weight. Talk about healthy eating instead.

*Try not to offer food other than at meal times.

*Don’t let your concern about your child’s eating habits become a power struggle. Don’t beg, bribe, threaten, or offer to make your child something else. Explain that this is the meal being served, but also include something that he or she likes in every meal in case your child chooses not to try everything.

*Serve a variety of foods.

*Encourage your child to help plan and prepare meals.

*Don’t focus on the amount that your child eats at a single meal. Your child may eat less at one meal and more at the next.

*Reintroduce foods that your child refused to eat every few weeks.

*Don’t place significance on dessert.

See your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s growth or their refusal to eat.

Dr. Sally Robinson is Professor of Pediatrics, and Dr. Keith Bly is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston Children's Hospital. For more information, visit: www.utmb.edu

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