How to deal with young picky eaters

By Karen Flores,

Posted at Dec 01 2010 03:02 PM | Updated as of Dec 02 2010 07:22 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Contrary to popular belief, kids are not born to like hotdogs and skip vegetables.

Rather, children's picky eating habits are made, and the usual suspects are the parents themselves, according to nutritionist Mary Jude Icasiano.

"When we introduce food to children for the first time, their taste buds are developed as well as their ability to chew and process food. Children are not born as picky eaters but can be made into one due to different conditions," Icasiano explained.

She continued, "If the parents don't eat vegetables, for instance, don't expect the child to eat vegetables too. It's all about mirroring. A picky parent will produce a picky child."

Media also play a huge role in influencing kids' food choices. If left unattended, Icasiano said they may grow to love only the food they see on television or computer screens, items usually processed or loaded with fat, sugar and oil.

"At times, television acts as a 'substitute caregiver' for kids and may be an important factor in shaping their food choices," the nutritionist noted.

About 25% to 35% of children experience feeding challenges on a global scale -- from food jags and strikes to TV habits and great white diets, according to Icasiano.

Citing a 2009 TNS Global Market Research survey, she added that here in the Philippines, more than half of mothers (53%) consider their kids as picky eaters.

The Food and Nutrition Institute (FNRI) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has reported that Filipino picky eaters are at risk of being deficient in vitamin A, calcium, iron and zinc due to poor food choices.

In the long run, they may develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies such as anemia, among others.

Solving the problem

Picky eating is a condition that has no diagnostic tool, unlike being overweight where you can easily go to a weighing scale to find out if you've packed on extra pounds.

Still, Icasiano said it's hard not to notice a picky eater from the rest, as he or she has a certain set of traits.

"(Picky eaters) are kids who consume an inadequate variety and amount of food through the rejection of both familiar and unfamiliar food items. They particularly reject certain types of food or groups of food that parents think are necessary for a child's diet.

"They may refuse a certain food item one day but will eat it on another day. The refusal is usually associated with a demonstration of independence, but with increasing age he becomes less picky," she said.

Icasiano assured parents that even if their kids have grown to become picky eaters, it's still not too late to change them.

With enough persistence and a bit of creativity, she said parents can still convince their children to eat their fruits and vegetables and stay away from unhealthy food items.

The nutritionist gave these tips in addressing kids' picky eating habits:

Don't force your child to eat

Let your kid eat what he wants if it's healthy. Limit snacking to make sure that your child is hungry at mealtime.

Set a good example by choosing healthy food and drinks -- don't let him or her see you with softdrinks or junk food. The next thing you know, your kid will be following in your footsteps.

Make your child's food interesting

Offer a variety of healthy and tasty food. Be adventurous by trying new ingredients in different shapes, colors and tastes.

Make mealtime a pleasant occasion by turning off the television and interacting with your child while eating.

Also, involve your kids in food discussions -- bring them to the grocery store or let them help prepare dinner so they'll learn to appreciate the food served on the table.

Strike a balance

Don't deprive your kids of their sinful treats as these will only cause them to binge. Try to give them their favorite food at least once every 2 weeks.

Also, give supplements (from chewable vitamins to milk drinks) to make sure that your child gets all the nutrients he needs to stay strong and healthy.

Among the newest products that cater specifically to picky eating kids is Wyeth's Aquiva, a milk product that contains carbohydrates, proteins and fats within RENI (recommended energy and nutrient intake) levels.

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