If you have a child older than 12 months of age, you may notice that his appetite has decreased, his food choices have become selective and he gets fussy when eating. This is very common and usually occurs when little ones begin to acquire and desire independence. Also, the mayor growth spurt little ones go through during their first year of life is beginning to decelerate. For this reason, some days you might notice your baby eats well and some days it seems that he doesn’t eat anything at all. You may believe that your little one is very fussy; however, most of the time it’s simply that his interest lies in playing and exploring, not on food.
His decrease in rhythm of growth and his interest in play are not the only factors that cause children to be picky; researchers in psychology and nutrition have identified that genes may also play a role in food rejection. The fear of trying new food may be due to the temperament of your child; however, this doesn’t mean that the behavior can’t be modified. So what should you do? First of all, take a deep breath and follow the next 11 tips to ensure that mealtime doesn’t become a battleground.
1. Remember to respect your child’s appetite. Sometimes he may be hungry and sometimes he may not. Don’t force him to eat if he doesn’t want to. Experts in nutrition and psychology have discovered that forcefully finishing all the food on the plate –despite not being hungry– can lead to eating disorders or obesity in the future.
2. Establish a routine and schedule for mealtime and try to stick to it. This way your child can expect meals at a specific time of the day.
3. Invite your child to the supermarket and describe the foods you see. Speak positively about them. Let your child choose fruits and vegetables with your help; this way you’ll be exposing him to healthy foods without him feeling the pressure to try them.
4. Be patient when it comes to serving new food. Try to encourage your little one to taste the food while describing it, instead of simply stating that it tastes good. Remember that the presentation is very important and can sway your little one to try or reject a food. Don’t give up; sometimes you’ll have to present the same food 7-15 times before he tries it.
5. When introducing a new food, remember to accompany it with a known healthy food that your child already likes. If he likes plain spaghetti, add some spaghetti with tomato sauce on the side and give him a taste, if he prefers not to eat the rest, don’t worry, at least he tasted it or got some exposure.
6. Minimize distractions and keep mealtimes brief so your little one can resume playing soon after.
7. Offer food in various presentations: if you served raw carrots, now serve them cooked. Cut sandwiches into fun shapes, or choose to offer frozen peas. Sometimes these simple changes can make your little one enjoy a previously rejected food.
8. If your child refuses a meal, don’t rush to prepare a new one. Instead try to always serve various options, amongst them a food you know he likes.
9. Make sure that the time you sit at the table is pleasant, and have your little one see you eating the same healthy foods with pleasure.
10. Don’t feed your little one too much milk or snacks between meals as this can interfere with his hunger.
11. Finally, don’t offer dessert as a reward. This will only foster the belief that the dessert is more desirable than food.
Hopefully, these tips will help maintain peace at mealtime. Remember that you have control over when, and what foods you offer your little one, and your child has control over eating it or not. Give him time and continue offering healthy food choices every meal. If you’re worried about the quantity of food that he eats, keep a food diary. This can give you an objective perspective of his overall intake. If you believe that your child’s health is at risk due to lack of food, don’t hesitate to contact your pediatrician. He can give you further assistance and if necessary prescribe a dietary supplement.