Flexibility in eating and dietary variety are two essential components to building a healthy brain and body.
Food flexibility – Ages six months three years of age – Picky eating can make it difficult for parents to assure their child is getting adequate nutrition. So it is important to build food flexibility at an early age. To build your infant’s tolerance for dietary variety, introduce new fruits and vegetables into your child’s diet on a regular basis. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents introduce a variety of healthy foods :fruits (avoiding fruit juice and sweet drinks) and vegetables starting at four to six months of age and continue offering if initially refused;. See the APA recommendations at http://aappolicy.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/pediatrics;117/2/544
Coaxing the Picky eater – Ages three to seven years of age – If your child is already a picky eater, there are several things you can try. Cheri Fraker, Laura Walbert at Koke Mill Medical Center, in Springfield, IL, and Sibyl Cox provide courses and have written a book about how to get picky eaters at older ages to eat new foods through a process they call food chaining. Although their approach is designed for children with physiological problems that interfere with ability to swallow and chew or children with eating disorders due to sensory aversions, there are two techniques involved in food chaining that parents may find helpful with children who do not have eating problems but are reluctant to try new foods:
- transitional foods and
- flavor masking
First, to coax a child to transition to new foods, parents may find it helpful to ask children to take a bite of a familiar food, such as bread, followed by a bite of a new food. When your child tastes a food he really likes and then tries a bite of a new food he might be willing to try more new foods..Cheir Fraker stated in an article on Food Chaining in a recent issue of Advance Magazine for Speech Language Pathologists ,”You can do this with drinks, too’ to get rid of an unliked food aftertaste.
Flavor masking is when you dip a new food in a flavor the child likes, such as ranch dressing or barbecue sauce.
Trouble Signs – You may be concerned about whether some quirks your child exhibits or some eating differences you see in your child could be more serious than just that of a typical picky eater. You may feel that compared to other children your child’s age, your child resists more foods or frequently gags, coughs or chokes when trying new foods. Child feeding specialists emphasize that it is important to make sure that a picky eater does not have physical reason for rejecting certain foods. Speech pathologists who specialize in oral-motor problems in children can be consulted if you are concerned that your child might have an eating disorder or a problem handling certain kinds of foods.
When in doubt, ask your pediatrician whether your concerns are indeed something to worry about or just typical variation in development or personality and whether a referral to a speech-language pathologist who specializes in feeding disorders might be warranted.