It’s an exciting day when your baby starts on solid food. Yet, that can be just the beginning of picky eater struggles for parents. Eating a variety of foods is important to your child’s health and picky eating isn’t something you want to encourage. What can a parent do?
In an article on the Henry Ford Health blog, pediatrician Bridget Mc Ardle, D.O. encourages parents to take the long view. “Look at what your child eats, not just over the course of a day, but over the course of a week. As long as you continue to provide healthy options to them, it pretty much evens out,” she says.
What causes picky eating?
Children are learning what they like and what they can control, says Dr. McArdle. This is common in young children. They may use food as a way to assert themselves.
Preventing picky eating requires a level of patience. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends never forcing a child to eat certain foods. Insisting that a child eat a specific food may cause even more food avoidance down the road.
On the Henry Ford Health blog, Dr. McArdle points out that developing your child’s palate and encouraging their willingness to try new foods begins when you first introduce your baby to solid food. Dr. McArdle says that it’s important to introduce a wide variety of foods, especially vegetables and fruits.
How to introduce foods to babies and toddlers
Introduce solid foods at 6 months of age, says Dr. McArdle. She says that you can start sooner if a child can sit up on their own and seems interested in eating solid food.
Parents and caregivers should introduce one new food at a time so that you can track the child’s reaction to the food. “Typically, try one new food every three days,” Dr. McArdle says in an article on the Henry Ford Health blog. This way parents can see if their child has any reactions or food intolerance.
Food allergies can be life-threatening. Be sure to get emergency care for your child if they experience swelling of the face, hives, trouble breathing or severe vomiting. The Food Allergy Anaphylaxis Network has more information on food allergies and sensitivities.
If all goes well, you can keep giving the child that food and include it in their regular diet. Over time, your child will have an array of safe, healthy foods to eat. As you introduce these foods, you will notice that your child likes some more than others. However, don’t let that deter you from offering foods your kids might be lukewarm about.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, sometimes it takes a baby 10-15 tries over a period of time before accepting a new food. On the Henry Ford Health blog, Dr. McArdle tells parents not to give up. “Continue to offer a food multiple times. You never know. On the eleventh time, they might like it,” she says. Children may also be more willing to eat a food if they see you eating it and enjoying it.
How to make foods more palatable to a picky eater
One way to get kids to try foods is to change how you offer it to them. The CDC recommends freezing the food in small bites so that you don’t wind up throwing it all away if your child doesn’t like it. Obviously, thaw it out before you serve it to your young child.
Another way to get kids interested in trying a rejected food is to serve it in a different way. The Henry Ford Health blog suggests changing the presentation or the look. For example, let’s say you want your child to try carrots. Cut the veggies into slivers, shred them or serve them cooked if you’ve tried serving them raw. You can also offer dips you know that your child likes or add a tasty seasoning.
The CDC also suggests that you mix a food you know your child likes with the new food. Use your judgment on the flavor combinations you offer, but it might get your child interested.
Dr. McArdle also suggests the time-tested approach of “playing” with your child’s food. “Here comes the airplane,” as you guide the spoon into your child’s open mouth is always a good way to try getting a child to eat.
And if your child simply doesn’t like something, give it a rest and don’t try again for a while. The CDC says to wait at least a week after a food rejection.
When you should be concerned
Most of the time, picky eating is a quirky part of childhood that doesn’t cause problems. Dr. McArdle points out that there is no reason to worry if your child is gaining weight at a reasonable pace and growing normally.
One way to decipher what your child is actually eating is to keep a food log for a week or two. It may assuage your worries when you see that your child eats an overall healthy diet. Or, it can show you where your child’s nutrition might be lacking.
If at any time you feel concerned about your child’s weight, growth or development, reach out to your child’s doctor.
Preventing picky eating can be done with a little help and patience. Keep offering a variety of foods and enjoy your meals with your child!