By Dr. Celeste Gomez
Q: Dear Doc Celeste,
I have two toddlers who are very very picky when it comes to eating meals. They love to eat snacks like cookies and love to drink milk, however when it comes to mealtime, they just don’t eat. How do I handle this? —Concerned Mommy
A: Dear Concerned Mommy,
Feeding children, especially toddlers require the magical powers of discipline, routine, and the power to say “no” when you have to. Dr. Irene Chatoor’s “Guidelines for Hard to Feed Children” by the American Academy of Pediatrics, discussed the most common issues and guidelines on how to address them.
- Regular Feeding Time: We would like our toddler to feel the signal for “hunger” and also feel the internal feeling of fullness. Allowing them to snack per demand or eat little bits of food anytime they want prevents them from having a routine and consequently do not develop a sense of proper hunger for mealtime. To help your child feel hungry, feed your child at regular times. It is best to space meals—including snack time—three to four hours apart. Do not give snacks, juices, and milk in between a scheduled meal time. If they get thirsty, give only water.
- Start with small portions: Sometimes, children can get overwhelmed by the portions of the food placed on their plate by their parents or caregivers. It is best to serve small portions initially, allowing the possibility of second, third or fourth helpings. This makes meal time sort of an activity where they can actually be engaged in the eating process.
- Eat as a family: Studies have shown that toddlers and children eat more and eat best when they eat together with either caregivers or family members. Letting them sit at the table until “Mommy’s and Daddy’s tummies are full” will help them learn the feeling of fullness. It is also advised to keep the atmosphere around mealtimes positive and happy. It is good to praise your child for self-feeding skills, but remember to keep a neutral attitude about your child’s food intake. We must keep in mind that eating is not a performance, but regulated by the internal need to satisfy a hunger.
- Time your meals: If we give our children the whole day to eat, they will take one whole day to finish their food! This is where the power of discipline and communication comes in. It is best to keep mealtimes not longer than 20 to 30 minutes—even if your child has eaten very little or nothing at all. This will help them build their hunger and eventually they will learn to make up for the minimal food intake at the next scheduled meal. Make sure you don’t give in to their requests for snacks in between the scheduled meal for this rule will backfire on you and you will end up with a snacking child who does not eat proper meals.
You can also seek help from a team of experts who will be able to do a personalized assessment and guide you through your feeding issues. The Medical City Ortigas’ Feeding Clinic located at the Center for Developmental Pediatrics is available daily. For appointments, call 988-1000 local 6630.