How to Handle a Picky Eater

READER'S QUESTION

I have a very picky eater who really only wants to eat carbs, very little protein. For instance, yesterday she had a waffle and a little bit of yogurt, two bites of a turkey pita, some sliced apple, one chicken nugget, almost an entire small French fry and a cookie. I just don't think it's balanced, but when I try to withhold the foods she will eat to get her to eat protein, she just won't eat. What should I do?

DR. BLUM'S RESPONSE

My advice to you is to relax and stop worrying so much about what your child eats. If your child is growing and developing normally, there is no need to fret about what they are eating because it must be sufficient or they would not grow and develop well.

My advice to parents of picky eaters is to stop fighting about food. Offer your children a wide variety of mostly healthy foods and let them eat what they want. It is important to offer many choices and try to get them to at least take a bite of many foods but don’t make it a major battle. Small children have very few things in their lives over which they have control and what they choose to put in their bodies is one area where they do have control.

There have been studies done on picky children and it has been shown that children will add a new food to their repertoire after they have tasted it about 20 times. That means if you want them to begin eating a vegetable that they currently refuse to eat you need to get them to take a taste of it 20 times. By that time it will become one of the foods they will be willing to eat.

If your child refuses to eat anything at a meal, do not let them have snacks before the next meal. Let them get hungry. A child can go many days without any food, as long as they are drinking, without having any repercussions so do not worry if they miss a meal. The worst thing you can do is let them walk around the house snacking because you feel bad that they didn’t eat a meal. They made the choice not to eat and they need to learn that the consequence of that is hunger.

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I have seen many people who worry endlessly about a picky child and have watched that child grow up to be tall, strong, smart and healthy. Don’t worry so much. Relaxing about the quantity and type of food your child is eating will help both of you.

Dr. Robert M. Blum is a pediatrician at Southfield Pediatrics in Bingham Farms and West Bloomfield. Email him questions at askdrblum@www.metroparent.com.

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