Dr. Nimali Fernando, is a pediatrician also known as “Dr. Yum.” She’s also co-author of a new book Raising A Healthy Happy Eater: A Parent’s Handbook; and co-creator of a video course called The Picky Eater Course.
If you’ve got a picky eater on your hands she’s got some useful advice! Is your toddler not eating? Don’t panic!
“So what happens with toddlers is they stop growing very fast and the first year, they're growing at like the speed of light and they're hungry and so they eat and you get used to them eating voraciously. And then what happens and the toddler years is their growth curve goes from very steep to quite flat and so they're just not hungry people, these little toddlers,” Dr. Fernando said. “And that drives us nuts as moms because we want to see them eat. And I always tell families at the one-year visit when they come in for those one-year well child visits -- get ready, your baby's going to stop eating and your job is to not react. And put food on the plate that you know is good for them and when they decide they don't want to eat it, that's okay.”
Dr. Fernando says provide lots of healthy options and when they’re hungry, they will eat.
“Put lots of good variety of food on the plate and don't reach for the fish shaped crackers or the fruit snacks or the peanut butter sandwich just because you want to see them eat,” Dr. Fernando said. “And we've all done this! If you've made the chicken and broccoli and rice and they're not going to eat it, it's because they're not hungry. It's just like if you ate a great big meal and then I offered you an apple, you might say, 'I'm full.' But I know if I was offered a sweet dessert I would be like, 'I have a little room for that.' Kids will eat when they're not hungry if the food is tasty enough. And it doesn't mean that they need that food.”
Another bit of knowledge good for parents to know affects dental health! Snacking too often can lead to cavities!
“Every time we introduce - especially carbohydrates - into the mouth it changes the pH of the mouth and it makes it easier for bacteria to set up cavities,” Dr. Fernando said. “So I like for kids to be on a little bit of a schedule where they take take a break from eating for a couple of hours and if they are thirsty there sipping on plain water.”
Also Dr. Fernando says dinner should start before you ever get to the table.
“I always say that the meal really starts when you start cooking,” Dr. Fernando said. “It's not just about putting it on the table and everyone coming to dinner but the more time you can spend with your children just learning about their day and spending time with them and cooking together I think probably a more adventurous, less picky eater you may have. When kids cook, they're more apt to try those foods and enjoy those foods."
Dr. Fernando says when we involve children in preparing meals, it's a sensory experience for them where they develop confidence in food.
"It's about being around food, touching and using all the other senses, whether it's feeling the crunch or listening to the crunch of a carrot. Whether it's cutting that spinach or tearing it with your hands and developing the feel for it. Those experiences are joyful and involve other senses besides just tasting and we need to and appreciation and a desire ultimately to taste and enjoy that food,” Dr. Fernando said.
Worried about frozen versus fresh veggies?
“Any vegetables are better than no vegetables,” Dr. Fernando said. “That's the first thing. And a lot of families they get concerned about whether they should do all organic - again, any vegetable, conventional versus organic, as long as your kids are getting vegetables - that is better than not. And when it comes to the choice between fresh, canned, and frozen - I think fresh always as wonderful if you can afford it and find it. But frozen is a wonderful alternative.”
Remember this is a long term project!
“I would just say that if parents are feeling frustrated about, you know, how their children are eating what they're eating or what they're not eating -- that joy around the meal time, around the dinner table goes a long way. So try to focus on long-term habits and just really enjoy the time that you spend with your children around the dinner table. And make it less about what they're eating how many bites of peas they're getting and more about just connecting with their kids. Those habits, if you are patient, will come with time. But try to take a deep breath and realize that parenting is a many, many, many year process,” Dr. Fernando said.