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Tips For Parents: A Pediatrician's Guide to Feeding Picky Eaters

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

Tips For Parents: A Pediatrician's Guide to Feeding Picky Eaters

Feeding children can be a delightful experience, watching them explore new flavors and textures! However, the journey isn't always smooth, and many parents find themselves faced with the challenges of picky eating. It's not uncommon for children to develop strong food preferences, often causing concern for parents about their nutritional intake and overall well-being.

To shed light on this common parental struggle, we sat down with Dr. Ma. Sherlita de Leon-Rosario, a seasoned pediatrician from Doctor Anywhere.

How often do children become picky eaters, and when does this usually happen?

"Picky eating accounts for about 25 to 45% of typically developing children. It can even reach 46 to 89% for those with developmental disabilities, including autism and developmental delays," says Dr. Sherlita. She emphasized that this behavior commonly emerges around the age of one. "Mothers often come to our clinic, concerned about their child's picky eating habits," she added.

What are some signs that a child may be a picky eater?

Dr. Sherlita explained that certain signs can help parents identify if their child is a picky eater. "Feeding difficulties during complementary feeding and delayed introduction of lumpy food can be predictors. Lumpy food should be introduced between six to nine months, as this is a crucial period for developing good eating behavior." She also highlighted that choosy behavior around 15 months and the introduction of readily prepared foods are common indicators.

Are there lasting effects of picky eating that parents should know about?

We discussed the potential consequences of prolonged picky eating. Dr. Sherlita warned, "Picky eaters may experience nutritional insufficiency, leading to micronutrient deficiencies like iron and zinc. This deficiency can pose significant risks to a child's health." She noted that if not managed, picky eating might contribute to eating disorders in adolescence. Additionally, the stress it places on families can't be overlooked. "Parents can become frustrated when dealing with a picky eater," she empathized.

What can parents do to help their kids develop healthy eating habits?

Dr. Sherlita offered a range of practical strategies to help parents navigate picky eating successfully. She stressed the importance of family meals, saying, "Parents should eat together with their children and model healthy eating habits. This encourages the child to adopt similar behaviors." Dr. Sherlita also highlighted the significance of timing, suggesting that parents avoid giving snacks too close to meals to ensure the child's appetite.

To make mealtimes enjoyable, she recommended using visually appealing plates and utensils. "Decorative plates with cartoon characters can make eating fun for the child," she smiled. Importantly, she advised against pressuring the child to eat new foods, reminding us that it takes 15 to 20 attempts for a child to accept new flavors.

Dr. Sherlita also emphasized that open communication is key. "Parents should educate their child about the benefits of different food types, like the 'go, glow, and grow' foods. This helps the child understand the importance of a balanced diet." She concluded by stressing that mealtime should be positive and stress-free. "Creating a positive meal experience sets the foundation for a healthy relationship with food."

Picky eating is a common phase, and with patience, persistence, and a sprinkle of creativity, you can guide your child toward a diverse and nutritious diet. As Dr. Rosario highlighted, mealtimes should be an opportunity for growth, exploration, and most importantly, joy.

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