Is your "picky eater" eating enough?

A picky eater can be frustrating, but it also raises concerns for the parent about whether the child is getting enough daily nutrients

picky eaters

A picky eater can be frustrating, but it also raises concerns for the parent about whether the child is getting enough daily nutrients.

"One of the biggest worries is that young children aren't eating enough during mealtimes," says Marie Lefrancois, a nutritionist at The Montreal Children's Hospital of the MUHC. "Some of the consequences may be serious. These children may develop nutritional deficiencies, have impaired growth, and may be less attentive."

According to Lefrancois, many children around the age of two, start rejecting certain foods. "The taste of certain foods may be stronger for younger children. Their taste buds have not yet been affected by coffee or heat." When confronted by the fickle toddler, Lefrancois suggests remaining calm. "Don't make a fuss but do continue to offer the food in very small quantitites." She also suggests children learn by example and that children are more willing to eat foods their parents seem to enjoy.

Lefrancois points to liquid intake and oversnacking as culprits. "Parents should monitor juice and milk consumption, and not permit snacking right before meals." Some other solutions that may help with mealtime battles include:

  • making mealtimes friendly
  • serving child-size portions
  • turning off the TV
  • offering a variety of foods with different textures
  • setting regular mealtimes

If these strategies don't work, parents can turn to their pediatrician or a nutritionist for help. Extreme picky eaters, those who are not gaining the appropriate amount of weight, those whose behaviour becomes too much for parents to deal with or those who are not getting balanced nutrition can be referred to the MCH's Feeding Disorders Clinic, the only one of its kind in a pediatric centre in Quebec. Lefrancois reminds us that the dinner table is a complex learning environment. "Small children are experiencing many new things at the same time, from different foods and textures, to how to manipulate a fork and chew. Make things simple and mealtimes should be fun."