Pearls of Wisdom: Picky Eaters

Although your toddler is beginning to develop his own taste palate and show preferences for food, he can be quite unpredictable when it comes to what he will eat at mealtime, with variations from day to day. Oftentimes their favorite food, or what you thought was their favorite food, could end up on the floor the next day. Likewise, the meal that ended up on the floor the day prior could turn out to be the food they can’t get enough of. Hot and cold as each day passes – just like the plate you put in front of them!

Most toddlers are — plain and simple — picky eaters. Others eat only certain foods – or refuse to do so as a way to assert independence. The amount of food they consume from one meal to the next can also change constantly and this inconsistency can cause a good deal of frustration to a parent or caregiver. The good news is, over time, your toddler’s eating patterns will reach equilibrium. Continuing to offer them healthy food choices and allow your youngster to find something he likes with or without you pushing them to do so will establish a regular and healthy diet.

Until they reach the age of four years old, children have not mastered the grinding motion essential in chewing food, so offer your picky eater safe finger foods such as baby crackers or a thin slices of banana; stay away from foods that could be choking hazards such as nuts, grapes, hard candy, hot dogs etc. Allow him to enjoy feeding himself and sit with him while he eats. This gives him a sense of independence and establishes a routine of sitting with the whole family during meals. Parents can utilize this time at the dinner table to model healthy eating habits that you want him to adopt as he gets older.  Remember that showing your children what to do and how to do it is much more effective than telling them without backing up those words with actions.

If your child refuses one food from a food group, offer him another form of the same food group. For example, try giving him chicken, pork or fish if he refuses to eat beef. If he won’t drink milk, substitute this for low-fat cheese or yogurt. Try pairing a food that he loves with a food that he refused in the past. Keep offering a food that was refused before repeatedly with breaks in between. Sometimes, it may take a few attempts before he actually develops a taste for it. Make food attractive and playful. For example, serve food with bright colors or make smiley faces or animal shapes using cut vegetables or fruit strips. Try to kick up a notch the nutritional value of dishes by adding healthy ingredients. For instance, you can add non-fat dry milk to shakes and soups or mixing fruits and vegetables like zucchini, sweet potatoes or apples to muffins, breads, meatloaf or pasta. Finally, be a good role model by practicing healthy eating habits and having sit down meals as a family at least 3-5 times a week.

Children have different nutritional requirements than adults.  Your child’s food portions are smaller compared to yours. A child who is thriving and energetic is more than likely getting enough food substrates to sustain both his growth and his energy requirements. If you have serious concerns about your child’s eating habits and are worried about his growth and development, make an appointment with your pediatrician. He can show you where your child’s height and weight is on the growth curve relative to other children his or her age, offer some reassurance and determine whether it’s necessary to pursue further workup or testing to look for any underlying medical problems.

All information contained in this blog and on our web site(s) should be independently verified by you by a medical professional of your own choosing and you should always conduct your own research and due diligence before making any decision related to the subject matter of this blog or our web site. 


Dr. Pearl

Dr. Pearl Cenon

A pediatrician in private practice in New Jersey for over 15 years, Dr. Cenon (we like to call her Dr. Pearl) also has two children of her own. Dr. Pearl’s husband, Kevin McDonough is also a pediatrician and they work together. She writes basic posts about topics that interest many parents, from skin care and nutrition to seasonal issues, such as allergies and colds. Her kind, approachable tone in each blog post will have you looking forward to the next one.

Breastfeeding — How hard can it be?

That is what I thought after an expectant friend said she was worried about breastfeeding. “It’s how we were designed, what’s to worry about,” I thought. With that (vastly incorrect) outlook, I entered motherhood without considering breastfeeding except that it was “best,” “natural,” and I would do it. Oh, what I have learned!

  • Babies do not always “latch on” and eat – in fact, some, like my son, refuse to latch on but instead scream or, when they finally do latch on, fall asleep.
  • Babies don’t always wake to eat. After my son did not wake to eat his first night at home and into the morning, I called the nurse, who advised bringing him in. Not only had he developed jaundice in the 17 hours since we left the hospital, he had not eaten. Thus, based on the advice of the lactation consultant, I pumped milk, supplemented with formula, and worked on nursing will also finger-feeding him (use a thin tube attached to a feeding syringe filled with formula or breast milk and tape that tube to the finger, which the baby then sucks on to remove milk from the syringe).
  • Finger-feeding to avoid nipple confusion is not a guaranteed success. For the first few weeks, we woke our son every two hours to eat, requiring that we finger-feed him because he would not nurse or wake to eat and we were told giving him a bottle would cause nipple confusion. We now joke that instead of nipple confusion, he got “finger confusion.” For the first couple months, he wanted to suck on someone’s finger instead of a pacifier or bottle – fingers were more comforting/familiar to him.
  • Pumping milk for a baby who won’t nurse is not always possible because the pump does not always stimulate enough milk production.
  • Working with a lactation consultant is helpful and can work, but doesn’t always. The lactation consult gave us great advice, but it just did not work for our son.
  • Sometimes breastfeeding does not work, not for lack of trying or desire – some babies just will not breastfeed and some moms are just unable to do so and that is OKAY.
  • Not nursing when you so badly want to is a tough decision and can cause guilt. I was disappointed, felt guilty for giving up and being unprepared, and often wished I had tried longer. But, after a few weeks of waking my son every two hours, spending twenty minutes unsuccessfully trying to get him to nurse, then finger feeding him, then pumping what (very little) milk I could get so that I could feed him that, with formula, at the next feeding, then starting all over again thirty-forty minutes later plus fitting in trips to the lactation consultant and doctor, I reached my breaking point and, sobbingly, told my husband I could not do this anymore and wanted to just formula feed. He was supportive and we still had to wake our son regularly to eat for a short time, but he had a bottle and life was easier for all of us.
  • Just because one baby won’t nurse, does not mean others won’t. I talked to other moms who had a child who would not nurse and then had other children who nursed just fine. So, when I was pregnant with Baby #2, I decided I wanted to try nursing again after. I prepared myself better this time, but didn’t need to – she latched on twenty minutes after birth, nursed great, and is still nursing twice a day at twenty months. I was also able to return to work and pump three times a day while away from her until she was one, providing her with plenty of milk despite having been unable to pump more than a ½ ounce at a time with my son. Friends, colleagues and even family eye me suspiciously when I say she is still nursing or ask, “When are you going to wean her?” But, I am in no hurry to wean her yet. She seems to nurse less and less each day though and will, I think, wean herself before long.
  • Overall, breastfeeding is a wonderful experience and I would encourage anyone who wants to do so and can to breastfeed – but, it is not always easy and it does not always work and that is okay.

On a side note: our son, who would not wake to eat and when awake, often refused to eat, is now five and still does not like to eat – never has. Meals are always a battle and he would choose to go all day without eating if we let him. He is healthy and in the 75th percentile on the charts, he just does not like food (except fruit snacks and suckers). I maintain that this was the problem from day one – it wasn’t that he couldn’t nurse – he just didn’t like to eat.


Shawna’s beautiful daughter and son!


About the Blogger:

Hi! I’m Shawna. I am a married, working mom of two — one boy, one girl, who I love more than I could have every imagined. Parenting has not always been easy for me and my children throw plenty of unexpected surprises, but I wouldn’t trade that for anything.