Susan Lewin took it in stride when her daughter, Jessica, was a finicky eater as a toddler. But the New York City mom figured the child would outgrow her pickiness in due time. It hasn't happened yet. "Jess is in seventh grade and still eats only a handful of things: cereal, pizza, pasta, cheese, and fruit," Lewin sighs. "It's incredibly frustrating."
Many parents of preteens share Lewin's frustration. Some say their kids have never gotten over picky childhood habits. Others complain that, now that children are making food choices on their own, they're consuming too much junk. Still others describe self-righteous adolescents who reject certain foods on moral or philosophical grounds.
"My 10-year-old suddenly started turning up her nose at hamburgers and steak, saying that meat 'grossed her out,' " says Barbara Kaplan-Radler, of Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. "Recently, when we tried to serve her ham, she was indignant. 'I like pigs,' she told us. 'Why would I want to eat one?'"
Dietitian Joy Bauer, author of Cooking With Joy, isn't surprised. "Kids this age often go through food phases and appetite fluctuations," she notes. In fact, the fussy preteen eater, just like the picky toddler, is struggling for autonomy and independence -- an appropriate developmental milestone at each stage.
But there's a key difference: "The preteen's food quirks are typically a response to things like peer pressure or a budding social consciousness," notes Melanie J. Katzman, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, in New York City. "If their friends are talking about animal rights, or if they hear a report about the health benefits of a low-carb diet, they may decide to change the way they eat," Dr. Katzman says. "And, at this age, they can be very passionate about their choices."
Still, it can be hard to cope with your child's food preferences. As a parent, you feel responsible for making sure he consumes healthy and nutritious fare. There's a psychological component to it too. "When your child refuses to eat the foods you prepare for him, it can pack an emotional wallop," Bauer says. "But you can't take it personally. It has nothing to do with you."
Instead, try these expert suggestions for dealing with your picky preteen:
Some fussiness about foods is normal during the preteen years, but here's how to tell whether a child's eating issues are more extreme.
Copyright©: 2004. Reprinted with permission from the July 2004 issue of Parents 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.