The toddler age is characterized by a constant recording of “No.”
“Sweetie, let’s play on the playground?” “No!”
“Honey, do you want to play with your brother?” “No.”
Sometimes the constant “no” makes us feel like we’re going insane. But nowhere is it more vexing than hearing “no” at meal times. No to veggies. No to chicken. No pasta. You get the idea. Ugh! As parents, we’re left in complete frustration and worry. We wonder how we’re going to get the right nutrients into our child. Grandma tries. Grandpa tries. The toddler wins with screaming and crying while our heads pound. Does this sound like you?
Picky eating is common
First of all, I want to reassure you that you aren’t alone. Hundreds of parents face the same struggle as you. Picky eating one of the biggest dilemmas parents face today.
Toddlers go through a normal stage of development called neophobia. In this stage, a toddler will reject foods for no particular reason or pattern. As adults, we take this refusal as preference, but it is a real stage of development. The rule of thumb is to offer a food item to your child at least 10 times. This gives your child the ability to distinguish taste and develop true likes and dislikes. Also, give your child the chance to play with food. Present them with frozen foods such as green beans, corn or peas, and then move to items such as cheese sticks, celery or carrots. Activities with pudding and yogurt are also fun! For most children, if they can play with food then they can accept food.
That’s great advice, but my child is still picky.
If your child continues to reject foods and is at a stage where he or she will eat 15 foods or fewer, it’s time to seek help. It’s important you work with a professional who is a trained feeding therapist. A feeding therapist can be an occupational therapist or speech therapist.
A therapist first checks to see if a child has good strength in the jaw, lip and tongue. If a child doesn’t have that strength, it’s hard to chew or bite food, or even keep food in her mouth. Further, a child with a weak jaw, lip or tongue is at risk for choking. It is likely that she has already choked and remembers.
For some children, their pickiness surrounds delayed eating patterns. Children with delayed eating patterns will not be ready for foods as fast as the charts on Google say they are. These children struggle with the different levels of food and will get stuck at one certain stage. For example, they will only eat Stage 2 foods and not 3, or they will only eat biscuits that breakdown in saliva. They have figured out what is safe.
For other children, it is about the taste, smell or texture. These children are your sensory eaters. They may have different sensitivities throughout the structures of their mouth. They have learned to reject everything except soft foods like cheese pizza, chicken nuggets, and mac and cheese. They become resistant and will limit their diet to less than 10 foods. They will not eat no matter what. These children could require intensive therapy.
Help is available
Picky eating can be helped. There is a solution; it doesn’t have to be a lifetime of struggles. Start by talking to your doctor. If warranted, see a therapist. Trust your gut instinct as a parent. The person who knows your child the best is you. Know that we are there to help you if you need us.
– Magda Girao, OTRL CST-D, works in pediatric rehabilitation at the Beaumont Health Center.