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.