The 10 Biggest Mistakes Parents Make

Mealtime Mistakes 8 - 10

8. Overemphasizing Neatness

Taste is only one way young children learn about food. "Feeding is a multisensory experience," says Dr. Vartabedian. A new eater who is never allowed to play with food won't enjoy it as much as one who knows the fun of smearing bananas and crumbling crackers. As for toddlers, what they eat is more important than whether they eat it with a fork, so it's good to be tolerant of messy mealtimes.

9. Ignoring Nature

Not everyone will learn to like every food. Some people just taste flavors more strongly, especially bitterness. There's also a natural fear of new things ("neophobia") that's strongest during the preschool years. "Parents interpret it as pickiness, but it's actually adaptive and normal," says Dr. Birch. Food neophobia is stronger in some kids than others, mostly due to temperament differences.

When your child refuses new foods, chalk it up to neophobia and keep trying. If after repeated exposures he still doesn't like it, just accept that preference. But if you're worried about his diet, consult a nutrition book to find smart substitutes.

10. Worrying Too Much

Even children who seem to live on macaroni and cheese may not eat as poorly as moms and dads think. "Parents label children 'picky eaters' and it ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. A lot of these kids are actually quite normal," says Dr. Vartabedian. And many improve with age. The truly important indicator of a serious problem is the growth curve. "If a child is growing at a normal rate, she is meeting her nutritional needs," he says.Young children, he adds, meet those needs over a broad period of time, not meal to meal or day to day. For reassurance, you can give a multivitamin, but remember that it's better to get nutrients from food. Another helpful exercise is to write down everything your child eats -- even one bite -- for a week. If you come up with at least one serving from every food group, things really aren't so bad after all.

Lydia Denworth lives in Brooklyn and has two sons, Jake and Matthew.

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Copyright © 2002. Reprinted with permission from the April 2002 issue of Child magazine.

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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