Understanding a Child's Eating Habits

How to Deal With a Child Who is a Picky Eater

Keeping the portions small will stop your child from feeling overwhelmed and rejecting the meal.
Keeping the portions small will stop your child from feeling overwhelmed and rejecting the meal.
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Babies and toddlers have days when they are more hungry than on other days. During the toddler years, appetite diminishes in relationship to a slowed rate of growth, and strong food preferences are normal. Illness affects appetite, as does teething. And adding new foods and textures to your baby's or toddler's diet may slow him down or cause him to lose interest in his food. You can expect times when your baby dawdles during his meals or gets very picky about what he eats.

Here are some tips to help you cope:

  • Make sure the portions are not too big. Too much food may appear overwhelming and thus diminish appetite.
  • Avoid force-feeding and making food an issue.
  • Make sure the food you serve is in a form he can eat easily. (For instance, if your baby has no teeth, his foods need to be soft.)
  • Be sure there is an adequate interval between meals and snacks.
  • Serve liquids at the end of the meal to avoid having him fill up on these.
  • Avoid high-sugar foods and between-meal snacks, which may blunt his appetite. This includes juice before meals.
  • Serve a variety of foods.
  • Serve food in a colorful and creative way. Eye appeal stimulates the appetite.
  • Make mealtime pleasant. The atmosphere at the table has an enormous effect on appetite, as well as proper digestion.

Food as a Reward

You probably already know that using food as a reward is not a good idea. In practice, though, it is difficult to avoid. But when a parent says, "Eat your broccoli first and then you can have dessert," he implies that broccoli must be endured so the child can have the dessert as a reward. And when you offer a cracker or cookie whenever your child fusses you reward fussing.

It is wonderful to celebrate your child's new skills or abilities. Sometimes food is an appropriate and convenient way to celebrate or reward. What happens, though, when food is the usual or the only way of rewarding an accomplishment or behavior? Patterns of reward and celebration are often set in childhood, and you need to decide if using food as a reward is what you want to teach. Try varying the rewards. A hug, a compliment, an invitation to play a game or help you with a task, and time set aside for a story or book are some good alternatives.

When your baby fusses, cookies and food often work to quiet him temporarily. But you should examine the cause of the fussiness. As your baby grows older, his fussiness may be the result of fatigue, new teeth, overstimulation, or boredom. Try some other cures for fussiness if it does not seem likely he is hungry. The cure is sure to be longer lasting if it is directly aimed at eliminating the cause of fussiness.

Food becomes punishment if a baby or child is forced to eat it. You can probably remember foods you were forced to eat as a child, and you probably cringe at the sight of those foods to this day. Force-feeding and then rewarding for eating certain foods is never a good idea. You are setting yourself up for food battles.

Just as with any stage of your child's development, the attitudes and behavior the parents have toward eating can drastically influence the child's behavior. As your child will be completely dependent on you for their food in the first few years of life, naturally many of their opinions about food will be filtered through you. As you have seen in this article, there are some simple steps you can take to ensure that your child will have healthy eating habits.

©Publications International, Ltd.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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About the consultant:

Alvin Eden, M.D.: serves as a Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the Weil Medical College of Cornell University in New York, New York. He is Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the Wyckoff Heights Medical Center in Brooklyn. Dr. Eden is also the author of a number of child care book, including Positive Parenting and Growing Up Thin.