Outfoxing Finicky Eaters

Two-year-olds often resist eating what you serve the rest of the family. But as long as your child is exposed to a variety of healthy foods, eventually she'll expand her repertoire.

Introduction

Theoretically, a 2-year-old should eat what the rest of the family eats. In practice, though, the reality is often far different. Good-for-you foods, such as green vegetables, may rarely spark her interest; instead, they're likely to provoke an unequivocal "I don't like it!"

To keep your frustration under control, remember these two dietary goals: Make sure your toddler's day-to-day intake of nutrients is sufficient, and expose her to a wide assortment of foods, so that in time she'll eat a healthy variety and like it.

How best to accomplish these goals? First and most important, don't get caught arguing or pleading with your 2-year-old if you want him to eat a particular food. When a toddler refuses to eat green beans, for example, or to take just a taste of that special chicken you've spent so much time making, it often has more to do with his newfound sense of self than his palate. By making an issue of your child's noncompliance, you end up only fueling his desire to say, "No!"

Keep presenting foods, such as vegetables, even if your child doesn't eat them. Just by being on her plate, the food becomes more familiar to her-and thus, eventually, more acceptable. Serve small, child-size portions of food so as not to overwhelm her. If your child responds with a resounding "yuck" to a particular food, wait a few weeks and then offer it again.

Set a Schedule

The traditional parental repertoire of "airplane" or "choo-choo" games to help food fly or chug-a-chug into a toddler's mouth are fine. Just make sure the mood is playful and that your child never feels forced into eating.

It's important, even at this early age, that you help your child get in touch with his bodily signals about hunger and feeling sated. As much as possible, let him eat when he is hungry (perhaps providing four or five small meals a day instead of three large ones), and let him stop eating when he is full. A rigid schedule, dictated solely by the time of day and the amount on his plate, may set your child up for problems like eating disorders and obesity in later years.

Your child (like all kids) was born with a preference for sweet foods. Don't increase this natural preference for sweets by constantly feeding her candy, cookies, cake, and ice cream. It will make the goal of getting her to like a wide variety of foods that much harder to attain. Also, these foods usually are not nutrient dense; the hefty helpings of fat and sugar they contain will diminish her appetite for more healthful foods. Try, too, not to heighten the desirability of sweets by making them taboo or by using them as a reward (saying, for example, "You can have a brownie or ice cream if you eat all of your peas").

Another source of worry for parents at this stage is the seesaw nature of the toddler's appetite. Some days, he may devour every morsel on his plate. At other times, he may eat very little and may even skip a meal altogether. Barring illness, such ups and downs in eating habits are a natural by-product of the toddler's growth patterns. Usually, there's no real cause for concern. In spite of your 2-year-old's refusal to eat certain foods, if you're offering a wide variety of choices, chances are good that he's getting all the nutrients he needs.

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