There are reasons why toddlers and young children can be “picky” eaters. Often parents will say “he loved that food yesterday and now he won’t touch it.” Why is this? We know that in the first year of life infants go through rapid growth and development. The average 1 year old has tripled his/her birth weight. When children reach toddler age, nutritional needs suddenly change as they start to gain weight at a slower pace. Therefore, less food is needed. In addition, toddlers are fast movers and constantly like to be busy. Sitting down to eat is not a top priority for them. Offering toddlers more opportunities to have small meals or snacks throughout the day fits their agenda.
How can this be accomplished?
First off, it is important to establish good routines with your child. Children thrive from consistent schedules so they can anticipate what comes next. Also, their small bodies need food more frequently throughout the day. Giving them healthy meals and snacks will keep them going. Have you ever noticed how a child’s behavior deteriorates toward the end of the day or late morning? Behavior often correlates with the body’s need for food. We see increased bad behaviors when a child has not had food for a long period of time. Anticipating this need for food by offering a mid morning or late afternoon healthy snack can minimize a blood-sugar swing and in fact lessen the undesirable behavior.
In addition to a good routine, you need to be aware of what your child is drinking between meals and at meals. Children often prefer to fill up on juice or milk because it is easy, quick and accessible. In turn, they start decreasing the amount of food they eat at a meal. However, children need to continue to drink fluids during the day for hydration, so water is the best choice. Water hydrates and does not fill them up with empty calories like juice. It is important to give water in between meals and limit juice or milk to snack or meal times.
Is there a way to increase food consumption?
Toddlers are notoriously known for loving a type of food one day and then spitting it out or avoiding it the next. As a parent you need to think of weekly intake rather than daily intake. Children do a pretty good job of balancing out their diet when offered a variety of foods throughout the week. Another key point is to keep the portions small. Your child can always ask for more. Large portions tend to overwhelm children and they begin to refuse foods. Offering two acceptable choices (i.e. banana or apple) to your child allows him/her to use independent thought and select a preference, but you as the parent remain in control because you are not providing limitless options. Lastly, be creative in how you present food. Simply changing a sandwich shape or putting fruit on a pretzel stick can entice your little ones to eat the right foods.
How do you overcome the challenge of feeding a “picky” toddler who’s always on the move?
Mindy Schaefer is a Speech Language Pathologist at Penfield Children’s Center.