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Picky Eating

My toddler is a very picky eater. Should I be concerned?

Our Mommy MD Guide’s reply: Before my older son was 18 months old, he’d eat whatever I put into his mouth. But since then he’s become a pretty picky eater. My son knows that he has power. He eats whole grain pasta and bread. He likes bananas and grapes, but he has to be in the mood for apples.

Because my son doesn’t eat a lot, I try to buy very nutrient- and calorie-dense foods. I want to make sure to get a lot of bang for my buck. So for instance, I buy whole grain raisin bread. This way my son eats some dried fruit with his bread. Plus, at 190-calories-per slice, I know that my son is getting a lot of calories in a small amount of food.

Sharon Boyce, MD, a mom of three- and one-year-old sons and a family physician at Oaklawn Medical Group in Albion, MI, and Bellevue, MI

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Our Mommy MD Guide’s reply: Like most toddlers, my daughter was often totally unpredictable about her tastes. For example, one day she’d like bananas, the next day not. I tried to keep the big picture in mind and not worry about it. It’s easy to get into the mindset of “okay, she doesn’t like these, so cross bananas off the list,.” But the next day if you try again, she might eat them. Or maybe the next day, or the next month! Persistence paid off. I just kept offering a variety of foods to my daughter, without pressure, and in

time she’d give them a try. It took five years for her to learn to like lettuce, but she saw my husband and I enjoy salads for years, and in the meantime she liked the cucumbers and tomatoes that were in the salads. The key with my own family and with my clients has been repeatedly offering what you want your kid to grow up eating, then biting your tongue about trying to make them eat it. Then patience, patience, patience!

Katja Rowell, MD, a mom of a six-year-old daughter, a family practice physician, and a childhood feeding specialist with www.thefeedingdoctor.com, in St. Paul, MN

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Our Mommy MD Guide’s reply: Feeding toddlers is tricky; toddlers can practically live on air. The way I look at it is that toddlers eat by the week. At any one meal, or even on any one day, they might not eat very much. But if you look at the bigger picture of an entire week, you’ll see that it all evens out.

I think parents get into trouble when they worry too much that their toddlers aren’t eating enough, and this causes them to cave to toddlers’ requests for not-so-nutritious food. Well, at least he’s eating something they think, even if that something is Goldfish crackers for breakfast.

No toddler ever starved himself. Take the long view, and be sure to offer healthy choices to your toddler.

Victoria McEvoy, MD, a mom who raised four children; a grandmom of six-, four- and two-year-old grandsons; an assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School; the medical director and chief of pediatrics at Mass General West Medical Group; and the author of 24/7 Baby Doctor, in Boston, MA

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Our Mommy MD Guide’s reply: Each of my sons has gone through a crazy picky eating phase. My husband and I have a three-pronged approach to deal with this. First, although we often like to try new foods, we only introduce one new food at a meal. For example, if we’re trying a new vegetable, we prepare familiar proteins and starches that we know our kids love.

Second, my sons know that they don’t have to eat everything on their plates. However, if they want seconds of any one thing, they have to finish everything else first.

Third, no matter what we’re eating, our sons can always request a few healthy foods to eat in addition. I’m not a short order cook, but they can always have hummus and pita, carrots and ranch dressing, or peanut butter and bread.

The key with toddlers is to offer them choices with limits. I don’t have any kids with failure to thrive, so I’ve never been concerned about any of them starving.

Deborah Gilboa, MD, a mom of 11-, 9-, 7-, and 5-year-old sons, a family physician with Squirrel Hill Health Center in Pittsburgh, PA, and a parenting speaker whose advice is found at AskDoctorG.com

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Our Mommy MD Guide’s reply: My older daughter was the worst eater ever when she was a toddler. She didn’t like anything. Plus she would literally take hours to finish her meals. Eating was such a challenge.

At the time, I was 28 years old and running a major trauma center. I simply didn’t make a big deal out of my daughter’s eating. I never reacted to it. If I had reacted to something like that, what would I have done when someone came in to the trauma center after being run over by a car?

Instead, I took what I had learned as a physician and practiced it at home. I would sit with my daughter at the table for what seemed like forever. I didn’t punish her, and I didn’t lose my patience. I just sat there as long as she wanted to sit. I kept her company and tried to entertain her while she ate. I never made her feel that there was something wrong with her. I just didn’t make a bit deal out of it.

However, I made sure to offer my daughter any healthy foods that she did happen to eat. For example, at one point she loved raisins. So I gave her plenty of those.

Keep in mind that this was 30 years ago—a very different time. The information that we had those days wasn’t as accessible nor as detailed as it is today. On the other hand, the information we had back then also didn’t lend itself to creating as crazy-worried a generation of moms as we are creating today.

I believe that you have to learn who you are, learn who your child is, and work with who she is. I helped my daughter overcome her eating challenges by not making a big deal out of them and by supporting and encouraging her. By the time my daughter was three, she outgrew it. By age 10, she was eating sushi. Today, she’s 32, an attorney, happily married, quite successful, and eats perfectly fine!

Erika Schwartz, MD, a mom of two, Bioidentical Hormone Doctor,  and director of DrErika.com, who’s been in private practice for over 30 years in NYC, specializing over the past 15 years in women’s health, disease prevention, and bio identical hormones

The information on MommyMDGuides.com is not intended to replace the diagnosis, treatment, and services of a physician. Always consult your physician or child care expert if you have any questions concerning your family's health. For severe or life-threatening conditions, seek immediate medical attention.