Cindy Woody has a picky eater. At age nine, her son Tom won't eat casseroles, pasta or anything mixed together. He also doesn't like leftovers. If Cindy dished up a bowl of macaroni and cheese, Tom would shake his head and push his plate away. And don't even think about giving him English peas.
“You can make kids take a bath, you can make them do their homework, you can even make them clean their room,” she says, “but you can't make them eat.”
Cindy said she tried force-feeding her son, but it didn't work. When he was two years old, Tom held his dinner in his mouth for several hours because he didn't want to swallow it.
“We got to the point we didn't know what to do with him,” she says. “Now we keep a jar of peanut butter and some bread handy just in case he doesn't want what is fixed for dinner.”
Cindy said Tom is not a problem child. He pays attention in school, rarely gets into trouble and cooperates with his siblings. But food is another matter. If he doesn't like something, he won't eat it.
“Breakfast is just awful,” says Cindy. “I have to keep five different kinds of cereal on hand, three flavours of Pop Tarts, three different kinds of granola bars and so on. He won't eat anything two days in a row, and sometimes not even in the same week.”
Cindy's other two children, ages six and 10, will eat anything placed in front of them. But Tom sticks to his choosy diet. “When we go out to a restaurant, I try to pay attention to what he orders so I can copy it at home,” she adds.
A widespread problem
Nutritionists say Cindy and her son are not alone. Eighty per cent of parents in the United States say their children are picky eaters, according to a Wilton Enterprises survey.
McGregor resident Tina Hutchinson is part of that percentage. At age 15, her son Chase will only munch on peanut butter sandwiches, pasta (preferably macaroni and cheese), pizza and hamburgers. “He's very opinionated about what he eats,” says Tina. “Even as a baby he didn't like the things that most babies eat.”
Tina says she tried everything to get her son to eat vegetables. She even warned him he would have to eat the leftovers for breakfast. Nothing worked. “He outlasted all of us,” she says. “Sometimes I would fix two separate meals, but I would get tired of it, and tell him he would eat what's on the table or go hungry. We've tried all the tricks. He won.”
Loisann Johnson, a clinical dietician at Providence Health Centre in Waco, said children usually become picky eaters by age two. That's when they begin to learn they have choices, she says. But they typically grow out of it within a few years. “It's a matter of independence,” she says. “It's just like when they learn to say no.”
Foods need to be introduced 10 to 15 times before a child will accept it, says Cindy Cunningham, a clinical nutrition instructor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Centre in Dallas. “Introduce small amounts of food,” she says. “Don't make a big deal about it, and the child will become accustomed to it.”
The Wilton survey reported that 60 per cent of parents prepare special meals for their children because they won't eat what's already been cooked. But Johnson and Cunningham warn parents against becoming short-order cooks.
“If children know they're going to get what they want, they're not going to eat what's prepared,” says Cunningham. “Parents are in charge of what's cooked and served.”
But never force children to eat something. “When their bodies need it, they'll eat it. They can't live off candy and ice cream forever,” adds Johnson.
Getting the variety
Children should eat three small meals and three snacks throughout the day, nutritional experts say. But make sure not to exclude certain food groups. A balanced diet is important and should include meat, vegetables, starches and fruit. Milk is also important for growing children.
“A good rule to follow is one tablespoon of food for each year of the child's age,” says Cunningham. “Meal times should take place at the same time every day. And set limitations - don't keep sitting there waiting for a child to eat something on their plate,” she says. “Take it away but let them know that they won't get any food until the next scheduled meal or snack time.”
© New York Times
Tips for parents
Set a good example for your children by eating healthy foods. And don't make disparaging comments about foods you dislike.
Children have small stomachs, so small meals with snacks in between are easier. Don't pile food onto plates.
Children thrive on routine, so keep mealtimes at a certain time. Serve the same meal a few times a week, with variation, once you find something they like.
Don't offer children bribes to eat certain foods; it tends to backfire. Children might eat an unappetising food in order to obtain a reward, but that doesn't mean they like it.
Don't fill them up on liquids, such as juice, milk or soft drinks, before a meal.
Children tend to eat better if they are involved in the meal. They can set the table, call everyone to dinner, wash and tear lettuce leaves or time the cooking.
For every food, there is almost always a substitute. If children despise vegetables then give them fruit. If they don't drink milk, give them yoghurt or cheese.
Don't ignore problems that interfere with eating, such as teething, sore throat or upset stomach.
Keep offering them new foods even if they reject them at first. They need to see something several times before it looks familiar.
Fussy eaters are often slow eaters who dawdle over their plates. It's pointless to hurry them.Source: nutritionaustralia.org