“Picky eating” is a common complaint among parents, many of whom worry that their children’s nutrient intake suffers as a result. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, fussy eaters may actually fall into two distinct groups – one unwilling to try unfamiliar foods (neophobic) and the other unwilling to eat a variety of relatively familiar foods (picky eaters).
“Food neophobia” may be either a personality trait, or a natural part of childhood that kids grow out of as they age and encounter more foods. Picky eaters are unwilling to eat many different familiar foods - not so much a personality characteristic as a development from life experiences. This study also illustrated that children who scored high as picky eaters were more likely to have mothers who felt they did not have enough time to eat healthfully and lacked a variety of vegetables in their own diets. Offering your toddler lots of different types of foods and letting them see you eat and enjoy a variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables at an early age can help. If you rarely serve vegetables with meals or eat fruit, don’t be surprised if your kids develop the same tastes.
According to another study, children’s food preferences and food-intake patterns may be shaped largely by the foods parents choose to make available to children and persistence in presenting a food that initially is rejected. It is important to offer your toddler and preschool age child a lot of different foods as it can help them learn to like a variety of foods. The more often children are exposed to new foods, the more likely they are to accept them. This may mean that you have to offer a tablespoon size portion of green beans 10-15 times before your child will even try it!
Be creative in getting your kids to eat more vegetables. This can include camouflaging them in with other foods, like chopping up or pureeing and mixing vegetables in with pasta sauces, banana bread, muffins, lasagna, soup, chili, omelets, or adding vegetables to pizza. Simple activities such as helping to make dinner is another way children learn about food. Food preparation gives children a feeling of accomplishment and encourages them to try these foods. A child that has helped to prepare dinner, is more likely to try it!
Children have small stomachs that tend to fill up quickly, therefore need to eat small amounts of food throughout the day. The amount of food eaten at each meal and snack will vary depending on their appetite, activity level and whether they are experiencing a growth spurt. Their appetite may also fluctuate when they are excited or overly tired. Erratic eating habits are as normal as mood swings. Expect your child to eat well one day and eat practically nothing the next. Aim for a nutritionally-balanced week, not a balanced day!