Coping with a Picky Eater: A Guide for the Perplexed Parentby William G. Wilkoff
End the Food Wars!
Do you feel as if you're running a restaurant instead of cooking dinner for a family? Are you tired of dumping plates of uneaten food in the garbage? Then you must read Coping with a Picky Eater. This fresh, practical, and realistic guide explains to parents how they can avoid mealtime battles with kids aged one to six years,/i>/b>
End the Food Wars!
Do you feel as if you're running a restaurant instead of cooking dinner for a family? Are you tired of dumping plates of uneaten food in the garbage? Then you must read Coping with a Picky Eater. This fresh, practical, and realistic guide explains to parents how they can avoid mealtime battles with kids aged one to six years, using sensible strategies that will establish a lifetime of healthful eating habits.
With cases ranging from the toddler who eats only peanut butter and jelly on white bread to the six-year-old who insists on scrambled eggs and cheese at every meal, pediatrician William G. Wilkoff, M.D., has been counseling picky eaters and their concerned parents for more than twenty years. Debunking common myths and soothing parents' fears, Dr. Wilkoff covers such practical matters as:
- providing appropriate nutritional guidelines for youngsters one to six, including serving sizes;
- dealing with nutritional saboteurs from indulgent grandparents to accommodating (or impatient) caregivers;
- resisting the temptation to "whip up" special orders that disrupt family meals and give the picky eater control over the family dynamic.
Dr. Wilkoff shows that by establishing reasonable rules when children are young, parents can not only eliminate daily fights about food, but also reduce the possibility of eating disorders later in life.
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Read an Excerpt
Chapter Four: Not So Great Expectations
One of the biggest problems that we have as parents is that we are prone to unrealistic expectations when it comes to our children. Some of this delusion comes from our natural inclination to want what we think is best for our children. We want them to be blessed with all of our good attributes and inherit none of our deficiencies. However, many of our expectations are flawed by our unfamiliarity with the range of behavior of normal children. Many of us were raised as only children or were too self-absorbed to remember much about our siblings. If you are a first-time parent, you may not have been around small children since you were a child yourself and now you are expected to be an expert. You may know enough to realize that you shouldn't expect a three-year-old to quote Shakespeare (although, of course, yours does), but you may not be aware that most of them don't need to eat three square meals per day. This chapter is an attempt to match up some of your expectations about small children with reality so that coping with your picky eater will be less of a strain. If I can convince you that many of your child's behaviors that concern you are really normal, we will have taken a big step toward easing your job as a parent.
WHAT IS NORMAL BEHAVIOR?
1. AFTER THEIR FIRST YEAR CHILDREN'S GROWTH SLOWS DOWN CONSIDERABLY.
The growth of an infant in the first year is explosive. A typical newborn starts out weighing seven pounds and measuring nineteen inches in length. At one year he will have nearly tripled his weight to twenty pounds and grown almost a foot to be thirty inches long. By the time a child reaches her second birthday, she is growing only about one-tenth as rapidly as she did her first year. As a new parent you may come to expect this phenomenal growth rate to continue into the preschool period. It will not happen. If it did, your child would have a serious medical problem.
2. AFTER THE FIRST YEAR YOUR CHILD NEEDS RELATIVELY FEWER CALORIES.
As your child gets older, her body becomes leaner; in simple terms she loses her "baby fat." Her new body proportions require relatively less energy to function. For the preschool child this means that she needs only half as many calories per pound of body weight than she did as a baby. This why the two- to five-year-old may appear to be eating less as she gets older.
3. CHILDREN "STREAK EAT."
Young children will develop an affection for certain foods that may remain favorites for weeks or months or years and then inexplicably fall out of favor without warning. Children may eat very well for a few days and then just pick for a week. It is the unusual child who will eat a wide variety of foods in consistent quantities day in and day out.
4. BABIES ARE BORN WITH A NATURAL PREFERENCE FOR SWEET AND A DISLIKE FOR SOUR.
All of the other preferences or tastes for things are learned. Breast milk is intended to be your child's first food and it is very sweet. By repeated exposure you can modify your child's preferences for most foods. However, she may always prefer sweet things when given a choice.
5. CHILDREN ARE WARY OF NEW FOODS.
Although toddlers are prone to pick up and put strange things into their mouths that they shouldn't, such as Grandma's heart pills or those red berries in the neighbor's yard, they are very resistant to trying new foods. It just isn't in their nature. This does not mean that you shouldn't offer them new things to try, but your expectations that they will try them should be low. For the child who is a hard-core picky eater, I wouldn't suggest offering something new more than once or twice a week, you're not trying to look for trouble, just trying to make a point. Once you get mealtimes to be more pleasant for all concerned, you can become more adventuresome. Until then help your child by allowing her to have more success at eating by avoiding too many strange things in too short a period of time.
6. YOUNG CHILDREN USUALLY EAT ONLY ONE AND ONE-HALF TO TWO MEALS PER DAY.
If you are expecting your toddler or preschooler to pack down three square meals each day, you are going to be sorely disappointed. This means that your child may eat a good breakfast, a so-so lunch, and then next to nothing for dinner and be perfectly healthy.
7. YOUNG CHILDREN'S APPETITES SEEM TO DECLINE AS THE DAY GOES ON.
This is very important for the working parent to understand. Exactly why children eat less well late in the day is unclear. It may simply be that they have already consumed the necessary calories and their appetite shuts down, or it may be that they are more tired than hungry.
We all enjoy watching our children eat, and this characteristic daily decline in a young child's eating pattern can be very frustrating for the parent who is out of the home most of the day. On days that you work, it is possible that you may never see your child eat if you leave before his breakfast and get home after his appetite has passed, which could be as early as 4:30 or 5:00 P.M. If your child is in day care, it is likely that the day care provider will be the only one who gets to see your child really eat, particularly if your child gets his breakfast at day care.
If you or your spouse finds it very upsetting that you don't get to see your child eat at all, I have two suggestions. First, change your work schedules to make breakfast a family meal. I realize this may not be feasible if you must commute a long distance or be at work when the rest of the world is just getting out of bed. More often, it may simply mean getting out of bed twenty minutes earlier. The other solution would be to have the home parent or the day care provider videotape your child eating breakfast and/or lunch for showing later in the day. In addition to providing hard evidence, it may provide an enjoyable form of evening entertainment when you've already seen the Seinfeld rerun twice before. Of course, the child should not be told why the video is being made. The event should be low-key, and no mention made of what and how he is eating.
8. NOT EVERYONE LOVES TO EAT.
You may already know this but may have trouble applying it to your own child. Just as there is a wide variety of body shapes and sizes, there is a wide spectrum of appetites strung out across the population of children (and adults). Some people love to eat and move it near the top of their priority list for the day. Others only eat to stay alive and seem to get little pleasure out of the process. Fortunately, most of us enjoy eating but keep it in perspective when it comes to the rest of our lives. Certainly, there are children who were picky for the first six years of their life and then as if by magic suddenly become voracious eaters. This kind of change is most noteworthy in the adolescent male, but it can happen at any time to girls as well. However, there are children who will remain indifferent to eating for their entire lives. Unless you enjoy failure it is unwise to try to change these people.
9. YOUR CHILD'S FUTURE SUCCESS AS AN ATHLETE DOES NOT HINGE ON HIS SKILLS WITH A FORK AND SPOON.
We all want our children to enjoy success in their lives. For many of us that takes the form of dreaming that our child will be a college or professional athlete. This is one of the more unreasonable expectations that parents harbor. It is so prevalent that there is little hope of extinguishing it. However, please don't make the connection between eating performance and athletic ability. Your child has just as good a chance of making it in the major leagues whether or not he eats broccoli during the next twelve months.
Use this chapter as a "reality check." If parenting a picky eater continues to be a challenge, come back to this little chapter and read it again...and again.
Copyright © 1998 by William G. Wilfoff, M.D., F.A.A.P.
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