If you think you're the only parent struggling with a fussy eater of a kid, think again; a lot of children between the ages of 2-6 years old tend to be picky eaters, and that's alright because being a picky eater doesn't always translate to having an eating problem.
More often than not, toddlers are simply uncomfortable with the shape, color or texture of a food item, and might even be a bit scared of trying new things. You can help your child get past this fear by serving the food it dislikes more frequently so it gets used to eating it. This fear should diminish by age 4, but for some children it will continue well into adulthood.
Another reason behind fussiness could be that your child is simply trying to declare its independence by refusing to go along with what you offer it. Sometimes your child might even be too hyper to sit still at the table long enough to finish its plate, at which point it would be a good idea to try to make mealtimes as uneventful and calm as possible by removing all distractions.
Young children instinctively determine when they are hungry and how much they need to eat based on the type of food they had during the last meal and the energy and nutrients they received from it. As long as your toddler is growing properly you have nothing to worry about. If, however, you feel that your child isn’t developing on schedule, talk to your pediatrician to make sure it doesn't need any medical attention.
Your child's eating habits won't change overnight, but the small steps you take each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating. Here are a few suggestions to help you avoid mealtime power struggles with your picky child:
• Respect your child's appetite. Young children will eat when they are hungry, so don't try to force your child to eat if it refuses to.
• Stick to the routine. Establish a particular time schedule for meals and snacks and stick to it. Don't give your little one snacks at least an hour before its mealtime.
• Be patient with new food. Young children might need repeated exposure to certain new foods before they're comfortable enough to start eating them. They might even touch, smell, taste and spit pieces of the food out before they're convinced to eat any. Be patient and encourage your child to eat by talking about the food's color, shape, aroma and texture, but not whether it tastes good.
• Make it interesting. Cut fruits and vegetables into different shapes with mini cookie cutters and serve a favorite dip or sauce on the side to encourage your child to eat.
• Get your child involved. Have your toddler help you pick out fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods while shopping at the grocery store. Don't buy anything that you don't want your little one to eat. Once home, ask your child to help you wash the vegetables and set the table.
• Set a good example. Your toddler will be more likely to eat healthy foods if it sees you do so as well.
• Use a bit of cunning. Sneak in some finely chopped vegetables to food sauces and fruits to cereals. You can also mix grated veggies into casseroles and soups.
• Don't use dessert as a reward. Never withhold dessert or use it as a reward, as that sends your child the message that dessert is the best food and will make it all the more desirable. Instead, designate two nights of the week for dessert and try to mix in fruit, yogurt and other healthy choices into your dessert menu.
• Don't become your child's personal cook. Whipping up a new meal just for your child because it rejected the first one will only encourage your toddler's pickiness. Stick to your guns and continue serving healthy choices until they become familiar and accepted.