Picky eaters or picky feeders???

The term ‘picky eater’ has gained sort of a cult following among parents of kids who don’t seem to be eating as well as they are “supposed” to. This term is so widely used that it is often confused or even misused with quite a few similar terms like fussy eater, problem feeder, etc. all of which in simple words indicate more or less the same thing..the child is not eating well! 

On one hand parents today seem to be increasingly concerned about their child’s health and nutrition and place too much importance to which nutrients and are going into their child’s body. In trying to micro control every single item on the plate by labelling it as carb, fat or protein, they forget to view it as simple food that it is. Kids don’t understand the concepts of protein or vitamins and it is mere stupidity to expect them to understand and make conscious decisions for themselves. Children are not capable of looking at the plate in terms of what nutrients are being served. All they know is how colorful the food is, how appealing its smell is and most importantly how tasty it is. It is the duty of the parents to serve them the right kind of balanced and healthy food and make it presentable and appealing at the same time. If you are one of those parents who try to feed ‘nutrients’ to their child instead of just food, please take a step back and stop being ‘picky’ about each and every nutrient that enters your child’s system. Of course this does not mean you just go on feeding anything and everything to the child without a conscious track of how much of each type of food your child is eating. The trick is to find a balance and not overdo anything that might rob the child of the pleasure of eating in the first place.

On the other hand we also have a group of parents who love to find similarities and/or differences with their child’s eating habits and in doing so end up ‘picking’ or leaving out certain foods that they feed their child. Many parents, for example, love to say how they like a particular food and their child loves it as much as they do. Or how the child is just opposite when it comes to a certain  other food. In constantly trying to find parallels in the child-parent eating habits they unknowingly start to prefer or abstain from feeding their child certain foods. Every person has a different taste and genetics has absolutely no role when it comes to food habits and choices. Let your child explore a variety of foods before you decide for him what he will like more or less. Let him ‘pick’ his favorite foods instead of weighing him down with your own list of favorites. The child is eventually going to develop a taste for the food which you keep feeding regularly and there is no ‘genetic force’ making him do so. Similarly giving up too early on a certain food just because you don’t like it either and so your child won’t like it too is also totally wrong. There is no harm in trying to find common likes and dislikes with your child and amongst siblings but they should not be at the expense of turning him into a ‘picky’ child who learns to choose a particular food over other.

Parents often panic when their child refuses to eat certain foods for some days and start looking for alternatives fearing that the child might not be getting all the required nutrients. They often forget that it is they who get to decide what the child eats and not the other way round. They often give in to the child’s demands and feed them whatever the child likes and demands.  Many rely on ready to eat foods as a ‘backup’ food. These are as easily available and prominently displayed in a store as a candy or chocolate bar and evidently for a simple reason! Almost every child will definitely like and eat it! And parents justify this by saying that it is better to feed them what they like instead of making them stay hungry. So before you give up and resort to ‘short-cut’ alternatives, just think once about the long-term consequences. You are the one picking the ‘wrong’ food for your child and slowly turning him into a picky eater!

A lot of picky eating that is seen in kids begins mostly in the toddler stage. Many a times this is closely related to the fact that parents have concerns about their child developing allergic reactions to new foods and hence are apprehensive when it comes to offering new foods to the child right from the time when the child starts eating solid foods. Many parents refrain from giving nuts, milk and even some grains to their children till they start going to school due to the fear of allergies. Though this is not a very big group of foods it still makes a difference in the way your child sees food. He might start believing that food can also be ‘bad’ and slowly start refusing to try new foods all together. Not letting your toddler eat a chocolate or some dish just because it has nuts and ‘might’ evoke a reaction is indeed a very over-protective approach to parenting. And all this for ‘if at all’ the child would develop an allergy! There is no scientific evidence stating that a child has a lesser chance of developing allergy to a particular food when he/she is older. Of course you need to follow all the guidelines for introducing new foods to your child to check for possible allergies and follow the ‘three day rule’ too, but totally depriving the child of any specific foods just because it is a common allergen is not very prudent. Do not take away the joy of letting your child eat certain foods just because you are afraid of a reaction. It is not worth it! 

Another very common reason leading to kids becoming picky is the lack of variety in their meals. If the parent keeps offering the same type of food every day the child would get used to it and might cringe at the thought of making any variation to the same. Habits do not take very long to form in little kids and it can take merely a couple of days for them to get used to a certain routine. And seeing that the child is happily eating something many parents make the mistake of offering the same thing over and over each day and in extreme cases this might lead to the child refusing anything but that food at that particular time of the day. 

If you find yourself stuck with any of the above listed causes or situations a great way to go about is to imagine that your child’s favorite food is not available in the stores anymore. Would your child go without eating anything at all because he does not get his ‘usual’ food? Would he starve himself endlessly? No..never! So just relax and the next time your picky child asks for his favorite snack or meal simply tell him it’s not there. He can eat whatever is being served or choose not to eat. Have patience and see your ‘picky’ child slowly pick up and bite into something which he never choose to even touch before. This requires consistency and patience on the parent’s part and might take time, especially if your child is old enough to resist and fight for his usual food. But the end result is worth the effort and your little one is definitely going to be grateful to you someday! A healthy and positive relationship with food is one of the best gifts you can give your child.