Q&A: 36 to 42 Months
If your child is a fussy eater, know this: You have plenty of company. Even great chefs sometimes have kids who will eat only white-colored foods or who won’t take a bite if the rice is touching the carrots.
Pickiness is often a temporary stage fueled by important developmental changes—a desire to exert control or a wariness of new foods—typically starting around age 2. Preschoolers may also be finicky if they dislike the texture of certain foods, say, those that require lots of chewing, or if they’re especially sensitive to certain flavors, such as bitterness.
What can parents do? Be consistent about offering new foods. In other words, don’t give up after one or two “yucks.” At the same time, you want to avoid being too controlling, and you definitely want to avoid a battle of wills. Often a child’s willfulness shows up as pickiness. Some parents have found that overdoing juice and milk between meals can leave their child feeling full and indifferent to solid foods when mealtime rolls around, making him less likely to try what’s on the plate. Make portions small and keep suggesting foods that your child has refused in the past.
Your best strategy is patience and nonchalance. Never force your child to eat! This is a battle you cannot win, and it may cause your child to link the very food you want him to eat with stress, no matter how good it tastes. Nor should you cajole him by using guilt (“If you love me, you’ll eat your dinner food”) or bribes (“If you eat your dinner, Mommy will buy you the game you want”). These tactics add emotional baggage to the desired pleasurable act of eating.
The best path is to continue offering a variety of foods the whole family is eating, with some of the choices your child favors in the rotation. Keep calm so that your child’s eating preferences don’t become a source of undue attention. Don’t cater to the quirks either by serving only those foods he likes. Remember, a child will eat when he’s hungry. While having a picky eater can certainly be frustrating, it’s not anything to worry about excessively. As long as your child is growing well, you can be fairly sure that he’s getting enough to eat.
Gary C. Morchower, MD, pediatrician and author of The 1001 Healthy Baby Answers: Pediatricians’ Answers to All the Questions You Didn’t Know to Ask.