By Dr. Jennifer Christensen, Austin Regional Clinic
Stuck in a picky eater phase with your toddler? It’s almost inevitable at certain stages — especially between 12 months and four years old. As a pediatrician, I regularly counsel my patient families on ways to work around the “all I want is gummies” phase. As a mom, too, I’m not immune to the struggle. I also have a picky eater.
It’s stressful. Food is nourishment! We’re also constantly shown via social media pristine toddler lunches with additions like kale and quinoa that seem so far out of reach (or out of touch) with our own struggle to just get them to have one bite of a carrot.
In the midst of all-I-want-are-bananas (as long as you don’t peel it for them), there is hope! Here are seven tips to successfully overcome the picky eater phase:
- Don’t stress out about a missed meal. The amount a child consumes decreases a lot after the one year mark. Before this age, shoveling food in is an Olympic event that your baby regularly competes in. But, soon, their bellies no longer need that amount of food so skipping lunch or dinner may simply be because they aren’t hungry. Breakfast is often their biggest meal of the day. Focus on quality of food, not quantity.
- Plan out meals (versus going on the fly). It’s hard to cook a meal that everyone likes and can be ready in time before the kids start screaming in hunger. We waste less and enjoy our time at the table more when we prepare meals where there is something for everyone and that’s simple or easy to prepare.
- Store bought foods are okay! And organic is not necessary. I had every intention to make my baby his own food, even purchased a cookbook on how to do it, which is still unopened and collecting dust on a shelf. Focus more on the kinds of foods purchased (healthy!) versus whether it came from your own kitchen.
- If he makes a face the first or fifth time, he might not the next time. Try and try again. They almost always give in and take a bite and when they do, they just as often, surprise themselves that they actually like it.
- Don’t over-snack. Full bellies will be less inclined to try any dinner.
- Involve them. Maybe it’s mashing avocado for guacamole or sprinkling cheese on the meatballs. By involving them in the cooking practice they will learn and appreciate the food more.
- Sit down together. Kids copy everything you do including eating meals.
Here’s one more piece of advice…resist becoming a short order cook. You’re a mom which means you already have a lot of jobs. Don’t add to that huge list of responsibilities by cooking separate meals every night. It will become much more work in the long run.
While not as food adventurous as my daughter, my son now eats some vegetables without prodding. It takes time. Hang in there.
Jennifer Christensen, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician at Austin Regional Clinic – Bee Cave, a new family medicine and pediatric clinic serving communities around Lake Travis: 512-272-4636, austinregionalclinic.com.