As the mom of a toddler who seems to survive on animal crackers alone, I know a thing or two about picky eaters. I also know a thing or two about the guilt and stress that comes along with having a toddler who is a picky eater. It can be downright exhausting trying to get food into them, and the worry that they're not getting enough fuel every day can be all-consuming. Have you seen these signs your toddler is a picky eater? They'll help reassure you that you probably shouldn't worry.
Luckily, most toddlers exhibit picky eating at some stage and that picky eating isn't cause for concern. Pediatrician Jarret Patton explains that “Picky eating is like a rite of passage for toddlers," and the way to teach your toddler how to eat a variety of foods is to not give in when they don't like what you've offered. "Good eating habits start in infancy and often parents accidentally sabotage their child’s future eating habits when the baby frowns at a new food choice," says Patton. "It is important to offer a variety of foods as an infant or toddler while continuing to offer those foods even if they don’t like it."
Patton reports that parents are often to blame for a child becoming a picky eater, "Parents lose the battle when they give into food preferences for fear of the child starving. If a parent sticks to the plan, their child develops a variety of eating preferences. Don’t let them be in charge of the family menu.” So instead of cooking only what you know your child will eat, consider making sure he has enough healthy and nutritious options and stocking up on patience while he comes around to trying them all.
While most picky eating in toddlers is normal, pediatric dietician Jill Castle told Parents that there are certain red flags you'll want to watch for if you think your toddler is extremely picky. If your toddler experiences weight loss or stagnant growth, if he or she has emotional reactions to new foods, or if your little one eats less than 20 foods, you'll want to check with your doctor. In the meantime, you can rest assured that these are the signs you've just got a run-of-the-mill picky toddler on your hands.
1. They Prefer A Liquid Diet
Dr. Patton explains that a child drinking too many liquids can make them act more picky than they should. He says, "Make sure they're not filling their bellies up with milk and juice. If they're thirsty they can have water; water doesn't take away from their appetite. They're not going to starve themselves."
2. They Prefer To Play
Toddlers are at the age when whatever they're playing with or learning is likely more interesting than anything else in their world, including food. WebMD reported, "Toddlers are often so consumed by novel experiences that they cannot tolerate any surprises on their plates, especially when they're tired." So instead of offering a new food at dinner, try introducing something new in the morning and only in a small dose, when your child is most likely to be receptive.
3. They Only Want One Food
Bundoo.com explained that a child's insistence on a single food for days or weeks on end is called a food jag and is perfectly normal for toddlers to experience. They said, "Toddlers equally thrive on routine, so requesting the same food, which happens to be familiar, is a normal part of picky eating." But continuing to offer other foods can help kick a child out of that jag more quickly.
4. Changing Their Minds
Blueberries were my daughter's absolute favorite food for months. And now? Can't get her to eat one. Pediatrician Jennifer Shu and author of Food Fights told WebMd, "food fatigue is not as unusual as it seems," and parents should not take a refusal of a favorite food personally or as the last word. Toddlers can come back around to foods, but they need to be reintroduced regularly.
5. They Don't Like New Foods
Toddlers naturally don't get excited about new foods like older kids or adults do. In an article in Pediatrics and Child Health, researchers Alexander KC Leung, Valérie Marchand, and Reginald Sauve, wrote, "Young children tend to be neophobic – they do not like new foods – and are often perceived as picky eaters by their parents. Despite the initially negative reactions to new foods, they do learn to accept them with time and repeated, neutral exposures." Keep offering the broccoli, they'll probably get there eventually!
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