MY SON is a picky eater.
Unlike his overweight parents, he is classified just below the median weight for his height and, unlike us again, has no qualms about missing meals in favor of playing with his toys, iPad, or watching his favorite Hi-5 videos.
Being of Asian descent, and Filipino-Chinese in particular, the grandparents are concerned that our precious kid is skinny.
Thankfully, I had a pediatrician in London (when we were still based there) who dispelled that theory and told me not to mind the criticism and instead look for signs of healthiness (or unhealthiness) in my picky eater toddler.
Of course, despite my “pedia’s” advice, I would still fret about my son’s lack of interest in food and couldn’t help but feel like a failure whenever he would stand with his chubbier and supposedly “more healthy” contemporaries.
It also didn’t help that for some reason, my cheeky little monkey would eat only in front of his grandparents and consume only what they gave him (and he would literally inhale the food they gave him, too!), which made me look even more like a horrid mother to my already horrified critics.
From talking to health professionals and other parents who tell me that my toddler is still “okay,” here are signs that should reassure you your kids are fine despite their apparent abstemious ways.
They still drink their milk.
While formula is not a substitute for the goodness of real food, it does help picky eaters get adequate nutrition, particularly if like my son, they only like carbs, not meat or veg.
My son can literally live on rice, pasta (with very plain, non-chunky tomato sauce) and biscuits, which all burn very quickly in an overactive kid such as he, so I still insist on providing at least three to four bottles of milk a day—even if his teacher insists he not have them so he is forced to eat.
They are still active.
My pedia never worried about Gabby’s lack of interest in food, mainly because every time she saw him, he was active and happy. We often couldn’t keep him still for his health checks. He was too busy turning her office into his playground.
His eyes are bright, his cheeks rosy (although they were admittedly rosier in London) and he was the picture of health. In fact, many pediatricians don’t recommend making your child too fat (no matter how cute they look in that state), as it predisposes them to heart disease and diabetes later in life.
They show “some” interest in food.
While my son’s food preferences doesn’t adhere to an adult’s understanding of real food, he still does look for food and when he does, is capable of polishing off a jar of oatmeal cookies in one sitting.
He also licks his lips when he smells or sees something that catches his fancy, which leads me to conclude he does like to eat, it’s just that he knows what he likes to eat and it’s not necessarily what we think is good for him.
Because of my son’s pickiness, I have also picked up some strategies to make him eat more, or at the very least, eat something (which is better than nothing), and thus far, as of his last checkup was still in the median weight range and had grown by a few more centimeters.
Invest in food scissors.
Granted you can’t bring one on an airplane (which means you have to grapple with the silly plastic ones they have on board), a pair of kids’ food scissors are every picky eater’s parents’ godsend because they help make eating times less traumatic.
I discovered one of the reasons my son wasn’t interested in food was that when he was faced with something too cumbersome or too large for his little mouth, he would just put the food back and lose interest.
When we started to cut food up into little bits, he would at least give the otherwise strange food a try and if we were lucky, that would be the start of a new food relationship!
Work with their favorites.
Since my son likes white rice (and he is very specific about this) and white bread, I’ve learned to disguise food.
In Chinese restaurants, I order the steamed fish with soy sauce which I mix into the rice (this was also my sister’s favorite growing up) because he can’t identify the fish in his spoon.
I’ve also learned to make red sauce with tuna and sausages, aside from the regular beef Bolognese. My son is, however, very adept at finding the “undesirable” bits in his food, so make sure to cut them up into the tiniest pieces so he thinks they’re mince.
The thing about toddlers is that they have very short-term attention spans and so when it comes to food they like, what they like to eat one day, they may completely reject the next. Hence, I never buy too much of his current favorites because they only end up going to waste (or to his mom and dad’s waists!).
Eat with your child.
In today’s busy world, it’s too easy for us to come home from work having taken for granted that our kids have been fed by their nanny.
Since I went back to work, I noticed that my son would often eat again with me when I got home and so now, I make it a point to try to make it home by dinnertime and if I don’t, I ask him to join me at the table for my later meal.
in their meals.
Do you really know if or what your child is being fed? I didn’t since my work started, and so I was mortified to discover a few weeks back that my nanny was feeding him a watered-down mixture of egg and chicken noodle soup.
I’d told her to make spaghetti, and so I panicked that she wasn’t feeding my son when I found the sauce intact in the fridge.
Apparently, my son just kept asking for chicken noodle soup and so she made some, adding egg to the instant noodle mixture for protein, but putting only half of the seasoning because she felt it was a waste since he wasn’t going to eat it all anyway.
It tasted like eggy dishwater and while I was angry at first, I had to acknowledge that she was doing her best to feed a picky eater.
Since that incident there has been a steady supply of homemade chicken soup in the freezer, that is stored in small containers and defrosted daily, regardless of whether he eats it or not.
While that may seem wasteful, I am of the belief that when it comes to my son and his health, I will never scrimp (and really, it is more expensive to pay for a hospital stay than it is to just chuck old food away).
Incidentally, that is something I learned from having household help this past year. They don’t actually know that defrosted food cannot be returned to the freezer.
I suggest educating your household help that defrosted food returned to the fridge may cause food poisoning, so it’s not worth the health risk just to save money. Teach them to store in small containers according to your child’s consumption and to just defrost as needed. In fact, they should be doing the same for themselves and for you, too!