From the desk of Shani Snell, Early Childhood Education Department Head:
Although picky eaters can be in almost any age group. We generally see a larger percentage in the 1 to 3-year-old range. The most important thing for parents to know is that this is perfectly normal! In fact, picky eating is very natural and it should not be a battle. Here are just a few reasons for this change in their eating patterns:
- Children have moved from a time of rapid growth to a time of slowed growth. They don’t need as many calories.
- They are also much more mobile than before and they like to explore and play. No time to stop and eat a big meal!
- They have moved from being “feasters” to “grazers”.
- They really want to make choices and practice their independence.
So, what can we do? How do we handle this? The short answer is, don’t. In most cases, your child will eat the amount of food they need each day. Let them determine when, where, and how much they eat. Don’t keep traditional eating times or traditional types of food for each meal in mind. Breakfast for supper is just fine. This will help them learn how to listen to their body. One thing you can control, to some extent, is what food choices they have. Here are just a few simple steps you can take to make this an easier time for everyone:
- Provide a variety of healthy foods to choose from. Don’t force these foods on them or require they eat them. Simply offer them and let them try when they are interested.
- Let them eat at a child-size table with child size utensils so that they feel comfortable.
- Provide a snack tray of healthy foods to nibble on. Leave this tray accessible so that they may self-choose their eating options. Having a choice goes a long way with 1 to 3 year-olds as they gain independence. I’ve seen ice cube trays used for this purpose and they work great.
- Be a good role model. Let them see you eating the foods that you would like to see them eat.
- Shoot for a good “week” vs a good “day” in nutritional terms. Toddlers may eat nothing but fruit one day and then want nothing but cheese the next. The important thing is that it balances out in the end.
- Whenever possible, let them help. They like to “cook”. If they help with the process, they are more likely to try the food.
Good luck and remember, this is normal, this is healthy, and this will pass.