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Mom and Kid's Food Fight

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Momlogic contributor and pediatrician, Dr. Cara, tackles your toughest parenting questions.


Hi Dr. Cara,

My 22-month-old will ONLY eat
pasta -- nothing else. I am worried she is not getting the nutrients she needs. HELP!

Jane-Marie, Mother of 3

Dear Jane-Marie,
It is not uncommon to meet toddlers who are picky eaters. In fact, almost every child goes through some sort of finicky stage. But among parents of the young and opinionated set, there is a very common complaint: The child who will only eat yellow foods. Yellow foods are generally starches--bread and pasta and cereals. Some yellow food eaters will include dairy in their repertoire (milk, cheese, sometimes yogurt) and others will allow fruits (namely banana and cantaloupe, though colorful berries are not uncommon). Even if a little protein and a little fruit is included, the diet is pretty limited. So what is a parent to do?

The most important first step is to realize that in the majority of cases, a child restricts his food intake just to push your buttons. It is a control strategy. When you put green vegetables or brown rotisserie chicken or red strawberries in front of your child and beg him to try them, you are not being subtle. It is imminently clear that all you wish for at that moment is for him to take a bite. And when he doesn't, you go through all sorts of gymnastics and pleas and give him all sorts of attention. Even if you get mad when he refuses to take a bite, you are still giving attention to the behavior. So the first step is to stop letting him know that you care what he eats.

The other critical piece is to start ritualizing meal times. Most parents of highly picky eaters are willing to feed their kids anywhere, any way. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner should happen at the table. Teach your child to sit for meals, even if initially that's only for 5 or 10 minutes. And there should be more than one color on the plate. You could serve only 5 peas, but you are making the point that green (and red, and orange, and so on) is part of the meal, too. This reinforces the point that balanced meals have a variety of colors, and it creates an expectation that this is how your family eats.

Finally, don't be above hiding nutrition. If your child is very strong willed, these other strategies take a while to work. So in the meantime, serve ravioli stuffed with veggies or cheese; mix pureed fruits or veggies into a smoothie or a soup; hide zucchini shreds in pancakes or quesadillas. Being sneaky can be a very effective way of getting nutrients into your child's body.

Eventually, most kids become better eaters. Around age 5, the palate broadens and the majority of children are suddenly willing to try new things. But if you have an adamantly picky eater, you may need to consider a daily multivitamin.

To ask Dr. Cara a question, click here.

Dr. Cara Natterson, author of Your Toddler: Head To Toe, is a pediatrician and mother of 2. To buy a copy of her book, click here

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2 comments so far | Post a comment now
Kelly March 18, 2009, 8:43 AM

Please, Jane-Marie
Realize that sometimes when children crave only pasta and other wheat products that they may be gluten-intolerant. Similarly, those who crave dairy may be casein-intolerant. This may be vital information for you and I recommend checking out GFCF (gluten-free, casein-free) websites. The failure to break down these proteins in milk and wheat (and some other grains) along with what is referred to as a “leaky gut” can lead to a wholerange of behaviour problems that may present as ADHD, autism, Asperger’s, and others. I hope it may be that your child is merely picky about food, but I think it is very important to have this information available.

Nodin May 22, 2011, 9:59 AM

Ppl like you get all the birans. I just get to say thanks for he answer.

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