Avoid the Label: My Child is a Picky Eater

funny baby eating food on kitchen

by Lauren Follett, BA, RHN, Registered Nutritionist

Since Jack started eating solids at six months it’s been a bit of a roller coaster. The beginning was easy – he ate a few times a day, and I was excited to introduce new foods because he liked everything. Eventually he started to get bored of purees so we moved on to smaller cubes of food, and meals with more textures. Then he became interested in what we were eating, and he would eat pretty much anything we put on his tray. When he was about 16 months old, things started to get a little tricky. One day he decided not to eat his sweet potatoes, and the next day he didn’t eat his eggs anymore. One day he would eat his tuna sandwich no problem, but a couple weeks later – not a chance. I found myself wondering – is my son now the dreaded “picky eater?”

After much thought and research I’ve decided that I don’t want to label my guy as a picky eater or put any label on him for that matter. In the first two years of a child’s life they change and develop so much, which makes it important to avoid labelling your child at all: “My daughter is a horrible napper. My son hates the car. Oh, he won’t eat avocado.” If you place a label on your child that he or she is a certain way it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you make the claim that your son doesn’t like avocado, chances are you won’t offer it to him anymore, and he won’t be given the opportunity to develop a taste for it. If you label your child as a “picky eater” you’re less likely to continue introducing new foods to him.

As infants grow into toddlers they start to become more independent, and quickly learn that they have choices, and can make decisions. Jack has realized this when it comes to eating, and it’s made meal time a lot more challenging. I rack my brain for meal ideas, buy the ingredients, make the meal, only to realize he won’t eat it. My first instinct is to give up, and only give him the foods I know he’ll eat. While this is easier, it isn’t teaching him anything. It’s important to continue introducing new foods, and re-introducing the foods that your child “doesn’t like.” According to research in early childhood psychology, it can sometimes take introducing a single food at least 13 times before a child will eat it.

Jack is 20 months, and is not yet at the age that I can reason with him. I can’t say to him: just try it, and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it. He doesn’t quite understand that. The best I can do is give him one or two familiar foods that I know he likes, and one new food or food he’s tried, and “doesn’t like” at every meal. I have to start teaching him that trying new foods is part of meal time.

I used to think that if he didn’t eat the new food, and only ate what he liked that I had lost the battle. I’ve stopped being so hard on myself, and mealtimes have become less stressful. I try to make the new foods something we’re eating anyways so I’m not wasting time cooking something separate for him. Some days he eats the new foods, and other days he doesn’t. I’ve also realized that if Jack is sick or tired he’s less likely to try something new and he’s better at trying something new when he’s not in his high chair. For example, if he’s playing and I’m eating something and offer him a bite, he’ll try it no problem.

Like every parenting challenge there is no one solution that works for everyone, which is what makes being a parent so difficult at times! The best we can do is: care, do research, and try new things until you figure out what works for you and your family.


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