Almost every child goes through a stage where he or she is picky about food. You can’t force a child to eat, but luckily picky eating usually improves as a child gets older. It can be frustrating when your child wants to eat the same thing every day or suddenly decides that he or she hates food they have been eating constantly for the last few weeks — but it’s not uncommon.

A child’s growth slows down considerably after the first year, and their body requires fewer calories. Often children develop a taste for certain foods that they will want to eat often and then suddenly they don’t want it anymore. Children establish a certain amount of independence through meal time because once they start feeding themselves, they can choose what they are going to eat. Their refusal to eat what you put on their plate might actually have less to do with the food and more to do with the need to show independence and test your authority. Pressuring your child to eat certain foods could backfire. 

Your child might not eat three complete and balanced meals a day. Most toddlers only will eat two full meals, and their appetite will lessen later in the day. Although you may not feel that your child is not eating enough, children are good at knowing what their body needs.

A child may be picky by nature, but there are things to do to encourage your child to try a few bites of nutritious food at each meal. 

• Don’t offer a big snack after school. 

• Don’t offer bribes or rewards for eating.

• Offer smaller portions of food on your child’s plate.

• Don’t talk about dieting in front of your child, especially if he or she is over weight. Talk about healthy eating instead.

• Try not to offer food other than at meal times.

• Don’t let your concern about your child’s eating habits become a power struggle. Don’t beg, bribe, threaten or offer to make your child something else. Explain that this is the meal being served, but also include something your child likes in every meal in case he or she chooses not to try everything. 

• Serve a variety of foods.

• Encourage your child to help plan and prepare meals.

• Don’t focus on the amount your child eats at a single meal. Your child might eat less at one meal and more at the next. 

• Reintroduce foods your child refused to eat every few weeks. 

• Don’t place significance on dessert. 

See your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child’s growth or their refusal to eat.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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