Monday, May 14, 2012

Picky Toddler Eaters

After the elation of watching your sweet toddler explore all of the wonderful flavours and textures that the world of solid foods has to offer, it inevitably happens.  Your little muncher who so impressed you with her huge appetite begins tossing food aside.  Or spits it out entirely.  Or offers the food to the pets.  Or does a number of other things that ultimately result in becoming a picky eater.

The best advice anyone has for this is to just keep offering foods and fallback on the favourites.  Even the pickiest toddler has a few favourites they like to eat, such as bananas or pears, or cheerios, or even toddler snackie foods.

  • Eat with your toddler to encourage eating by monkey’ing you.  
  • Make sure there are no other distractions at meal time such as the television running.
  • Relax.  If you’re stressed about your toddler eating, he’ll know it.  Mealtime is time for sharing, enjoying each other’s company, and enjoying the meal—emphasize that about the time you’re spending with your toddler.
  • Encourage food play.  Maybe by accident your toddler will manage to get something into her mouth!  And then decide it’s not so bad!  I did this with my son just last night when he was acting like, “Ewuh, this spinach ricotta canolli is sticky!  Oh hey, it tastes pretty good!”
  • Try preparing the same food, but a different way.  My son will have little to do with sliced bananas, even though bananas are one of his favourites.  If I break the banana into bits, he's able to hold the bits easier and eat.  Try rolling food in 'cheerio dust' if you suspect its a problem with being able to hold the food.  So sometimes, something as little as piecing out the food differently makes all the difference.

Most of a toddler’s nutrition can still reasonably come from breastmilk, follow on formula, and whole milk.  And while variety is one of the keys to better nutrition, don’t stress out if your toddler goes through stints of ‘eating bad’ for two to three days.  You can resume perfectly balanced healthy foods as soon as the picky behaviour ends.

Causes of Picky Toddler Eating

Wonder Week – sometimes when a toddler is hitting a developmental leap, a slight eating regression happens.  If your toddler is cranky, clingy, and crying (per the Wonder Week website and books) and you’ve ruled out everything else, it’s likely that your toddler is embarking on a mental leap.  These typically last for about two to three days, at most five to seven and your toddler should resume his old eating habits afterwards.

New Stress in Household – toddlers will regress not only eating, but also other behaviours if there is significant stress in the household.  If you are seeing picky eating in addition to other behaviour regression—say for example, you’ve taught your toddler to stop biting others, and she decides to take up biting again—it’s more likely the result of some new stress in the household.  If you address the stress, your toddler will likely revert back from regressive behaviours.

Teething – if it hurts to eat it, your toddler won’t.  Look for the classic signs of teething such as swollen gums, ruddy cheeks, drooling, runny nose and light cough, slight fever and address those with an infant pain reliever or cold teething rings.  Try offering foods slightly chilled that’s been mashed up a bit more than usual.  I don’t recommend oral teething gels in general; some contain an ingredient known as ‘benzocaine’ (ethyl p-aminobenzoate; trade names Anbesol, Cepacol, Lanacane and others) which has shown to be linked to SIDS.

Cold or Sickness – if the toddler’s nose is stopped up, it’s trickier for her to eat since she’s having to take food and breathe through her mouth.  Also, if she’s not feeling at her best, your toddler may simply not have the patience for newer foods and may simply be reaching for what she knows as comfort foods.  Treat the cold or sickness as normal or according to your doctor’s instructions.  Your toddler should be back to loving food as soon as she’s feeling better!

Asserting Independence – it might be that your toddler is simply exerting his independence.  This is a good thing!  When toddlers are able to express their likes and dislikes with comfort and confidence, it’s a sign of a child who’s very secure in himself and in his relationship with you.

If your toddler’s pickiness with food lasts for more than a week, contact your doctor for advice.

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