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Don't chastise children for being "picky eaters"

The term "picky eater" conjures up images of stubborn children refusing to eat meals placed before them -languishing at the table, enduring parental lectures, and foregoing dessert and playtime until their plates are clean.

Instead of engaging in a mealtime battle of wills, take a less stressful approach. Picky eaters are a common problem. So common, in fact, that it may be considered the norm. However, we tend to use the term "picky eater" in a negative sense, as if there is something wrong with a child because he doesn't eat like the parents or the rest of the family.

As children develop and begin to feed themselves, parents are encouraged to release some of their previous control over the child's eating. This is the time when parents should begin to stop analyzing their child's eating habits and insisting on clean plates. Parents also should never use food as a tool to reward or punish behavior.

Adopting a low-key approach may be difficult, since eating has tremendous social and cultural importance even in today's fast paced environment.

Much of family life still revolves around meals. As a result, the eating behavior of children and the parental response to it has considerable implications. For example, the toddler who is an incessantly picky eater can become the source of family stress. Likewise, the child who actively participates in the family meal adds to family harmony and well-being.

Despite what some people think, if left to themselves, children will not innately seek out a well-balanced meal.

The parent's responsibility is to provide the toddler with an appropriate array of foods from the different food groups. You are responsible for what your child is given to eat. Your child is responsible for what and how much he eats.

Toddlers may react negatively to new foods but are usually accepting with time. Parents can help by being flexible and making minor modifications in food preparation. Foods can be cut into bite-sized pieces; some foods can be made soft and moist; sandwiches can be served quartered with the crust removed.

Generally, children ages 2 to 4 need about 1,000 to 1,300 calories daily. Parents who are concerned about their child's caloric intake should contact their child's doctor.

Parents who learn to accept the psychological growth and development of their children will usually win the battle of the picky eater. Those who choose to dig in their heels at mealtime will likely elevate the concept of the picky eater to new heights.

Web posted on Thursday, March 15, 2007

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