Most toddlers start to show eating preferences between the ages of 1 and 2. This age can vary and can start earlier or much later. Here are some things you might notice, when you are thinking your child may be a picky eater:
- A sharp decrease in the amount of food they eat.
- They only want to eat one food all day or for a certain amount of time.
- They start to refuse foods they previously enjoyed.
- They may eat nothing one day and tons of food the next day.
All things mentioned are actually typical of a toddler – nothing is necessarily wrong if your child is doing any of these things. What you do in response to these typical toddler behaviors can push your toddler to become more or less picky.
There can be many reasons that your child’s eating patterns can change. As children’s growth patterns change, so does their need for energy, which in turn affects their appetite. It is common for parents to panic when their child’s eating patterns change and they will offer anything to get their child to eat. The fact is, the child may have not had an issue, they were just not hungry. If you aren’t sure if your child is a picky eater or you are concerned about their food preferences, please reach out to an occupational therapist at ACT Learning Centre to support you and your child in their food journey.
In the meantime, here are some tips to support positive mealtimes:
- Eat meals as a family, at the table, away from screens and technology.
- As a parent, you are responsible for what you serve your child, your child is in charge of what they eat. Take the power struggle out of mealtimes by serving your child a plate with the same meal the family is eating, but ensure there is one preferred food on their plate. Your child can choose what to eat from what is available and presented to them. If they choose to only eat their preferred food on their plate, that is ok.
- Deconstructed meals are often more appealing to a child who has food preferences. This means you would serve pasta, sauce, broccoli and maybe even the meat separately.
- Serve a variety of foods, often. A child may need 10 – 30 to 100 exposures of a food before they decide to add it to their diet. This means you need to serve a variety of foods and meals regularly so your child learns to like different foods.
- Serve easy to chew foods to support different comfort levels with textures and tough to chew foods.
- Present foods on an eating schedule to ensure your child is developing an appetite to eat, instead of allowing them access to food at anytime.
Your child can learn to eat a wider variety of foods over a long periods of time. Increasing a child’s foods repertoire is a marathon, not a sprint. This can be supported by having family meals, exposing them to different foods and most importantly, not forcing them to eat something they don’t want to.
Your child should be given a choice whether or not they eat all the food on their plate. We want to honor a child’s independence at mealtime and set a foundation for them that they are not able to choose what is served to them but whether to eat it and how much. It is not helpful to pressure your child to eat a certain amount of bites of foods or forcing them to finish their meal to get something after.
Please reach out to an Occupational Therapist, at ACT Learning Centre, for further recommendations and an individualized approach to increasing your child’s food repertoire and improving their experience with mealtimes.