It’s a question that can make any parent shake in their boots. The stress and frustration that comes with feeding a picky eater is no joke, and tired moms and dads would very well like to know when this phase will come to an eventual end.
Dr. Megan Pesch, a clinical lecturer in developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the University of Michigan Medical School C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, conducted a research to see whether picky eaters at the tail end of their toddler years would stay picky, also to investigate whether they were growing at a healthy level.
Dr. Pesch found that there were three kinds of picky eaters among the 189 children observed from the time they were four to eight and a half years old. Children scored high, medium or low on the picky eating scale, and they stayed at these levels throughout the duration of the study. The results only supported many parents’ complaints of their children staying picky eater well beyond their toddler years.
The children’s reactions were videotaped when offered two kinds of vegetables: one familiar and one less familiar. Pesch also looked at how much they consumed and noted any negative comments.
What makes a picky eater anyway?
Consistent with other studies, certain traits were found to be common among those more likely to fall under the high picky eating scale: firstborn children with older mothers and in families with few mealtime routines. Those more likely to fall under the low picky eating scale, on the other hand, were females, with younger mothers and in families with more mealtime routines.
The research also looked into weight gain as an indicator of growth. Children who were on the heavier side were found to be less picky, while the children on the average weight were the ones who were most picky, with a mix of those underweight and overweight.
Pesch notes that parents may be relieved with the findings, but there are still a lot of factors to be looked into before picky eating may be deduced to not aggravate children’s growth. “We’re not really finding any negative consequences with regard to growth,” she said. “We need further studies to look at dietary variety, nutrient intake, family stress.”
4 ways to deal
It’s good to know that there are still ways to curb picky eating at its onset, usually beginning at six months, when a child starts to build habits. This is also the best time to introduce new foods as the baby’s oral development is ripe for the big move.
1. Use teething toys as transitional tools.
The varying flavors, textures and smells of new food can be daunting to a baby. Hildy S. Lipner, chief of pediatric speech pathology at Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital in Hackensack, New Jersey, recommends using textured teething toys as a good transitioning tool. These can be dipped into food to help introduce a new taste by building on the familiarity of the teething toy.
2. Timing is everything.
Gently incorporate solid foods into baby’s routine in between milk feedings. While he is still happily satiated with milk, he might be more open to trying food rather than when he is hungry. Lipner also urges parents to let baby lean forward to taste food rather than moving it towards his mouth.
3. Space the meals out.
Lipner strongly advises against grazing, wherein parents sneak in food in a picky eater throughout the day. She suggests offering food every three to four hours, with three meals and two snacks for the day. Give kids a choice between two vegetables, for example, so they feel empowered.
4. Variety is key.
When introducing new foods, incorporate these into meals and do these on a rotation until they become more familiar to the picky eaters. The only rule? No throwing.
It all boils down to unconditional love
“The less pressure we put on kids, the more likely they are to change their behavior,” said Lipner.
At the end of the day, parents need to make children feel that they are loved despite being picky eaters. While it can be an exasperating phase for parents, they have to be gentler on themselves as well and know that they are doing everything for their child.