5 Top Tips for Picky Eating

By Jennifer Bright

November 10, 2020 6 min read

Picky eating is to toddlers what sleep deprivation is to mothers: very, very common. After a baby's first year of rapid growth, his growth slows, and so he naturally eats less. Plus, what toddler wants to stop to eat when there's a great big world out there to explore? And "Thomas the Tank Engine" is on TV to boot!

As a guideline, most toddlers should eat three meals and two snacks a day. But these aren't gargantuan-sized meals and snacks! A toddler's meal or snack should be toddler-sized, not NBA star-sized, to reach the total goal of 1,000 calories a day. Here are some snack examples.

— One banana.

— One cheese stick.

— One cup of yogurt.

— One granola bar.

— Six animal crackers.

— One cup of apple juice.

— One cup of milk.

Here's what our Mommy M.D.s — doctors who are also mothers — do to help their own little picky eaters.

"My son is a very picky eater," says Shilpa Amin-Shah, M.D., an emergency medicine physician in Jacksonville, Florida. "He likes shapes, so I found that when I cut his food into fun shapes, he's more likely to eat it. For example, I cut grilled cheese into triangles or stars. I use cookie cutters for other fun shapes. Also, my son likes bright colors, so I put a few drops of food coloring into food to make it more colorful. For example, I might tint his pasta blue or green!"

"My son and one of my daughters were very picky eaters," says Dana S. Simpler, M.D., a mom of two grown daughters and a son and a specialist in internal medicine in private practice in Baltimore. "My philosophy is that it's disgusting to make a person eat a food he doesn't like. But unfortunately, that made me into a short-order cook, preparing many different foods at the same meal to keep everyone in my family happy. In hindsight, it would have been better to say, 'If you don't choose to eat what I've cooked, that's fine. But I'm not preparing you another meal!'"

"Practically all toddlers are picky eaters!" says Cathy Marshall, M.D., a mom of three daughters and a pediatrician in private practice, in Encino, California. "It's important to remember that toddlers do better with smaller, more frequent meals than three square meals a day.

"My strategy for my daughters was to give them plenty of snacks, but to make sure those snacks were nutritious foods, not empty calories," Marshall continues. "I'd pretty much offer the same foods as snacks as I did for meals. I had a round Tupperware container that held several pie slice-shaped containers. I'd fill these containers with nutritious snack options, such as carrots and cheese. I used to prepare a snack my kids loved: whipped cream cheese on thinly sliced deli meats rolled into spirals. One temptation to avoid is crackers. They offer very little nutrition and fill kids up so they don't want to eat more nutritious foods."

"Before my older son was 18 months old, he'd eat whatever I put into his mouth," says Sharon Boyce, M.D., a mom of two sons and a family physician at DayOne Family Healthcare Clinic in Battle Creek, Michigan. "But since then, he's become a pretty picky eater. My son knows that he has the power to refuse to eat certain foods. He eats whole-grain pasta and bread. He likes bananas and grapes, but he has to be in the mood for apples. Because my son doesn't eat a lot, I try to buy very nutrient- and calorie-dense foods. I want to make sure to get a lot of bang for my buck. So, for instance, I buy whole-grain raisin bread. This way, my son eats some dried fruit with his bread. Plus, at 190 calories per slice, I know that my son is getting a lot of calories in a small amount of food."

"Like most toddlers, my daughter was often totally unpredictable about her tastes," says Katja Rowell, M.D., a mom of one daughter, a family physician and a childhood feeding specialist with The Feeding Doctor in Washington state. "For example, one day she'd like bananas, and the next day she wouldn't. I tried to keep the big picture in mind and not worry about it.

"It's easy to get into the mind-set of, 'OK, she doesn't like bananas, so cross them off the list,'" Rowell continues. "But the next day, if I tried again, she might eat them. Or maybe the next week or the next month! Persistence paid off. I just kept offering a variety of foods to my daughter, without pressure, and in time, she'd give them a try. It took five years for her to learn to like lettuce, but she saw my husband and me enjoy salads for years. In the meantime, she liked the cucumbers and tomatoes that were in the salads. The key with my own family has been repeatedly offering the foods that I want my daughter to grow up eating and then biting my tongue about trying to make her eat them. Then patience, patience, patience!"

Jennifer Bright is a mom of four sons, co-founder and CEO of family- and veteran- owned custom publisher Momosa Publishing, co-founder of the Mommy MD Guides team of 150+ mommy M.D.s, and co-author of "The Mommy MD Guide to the Toddler Years." She lives in Hellertown, Pennsylvania. To find out more about Jennifer Bright and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: avitalchn at Pixabay

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