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Health & Parenting

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Picky Eaters at the Dinner Table?


In their study of toddlers' picky eating behaviors, Carruth and Skinner interviewed 71 mothers when their children were 3½, 5, 6, and 7½ years old. Moms kept track of their children's diets -- what they ate and refused to eat. They recorded what kids ate at home as well as what they ate in restaurants or when visiting friends.

Results showed that no matter what their age, kids exhibited picky eating behaviors. Researchers also found that only about one in five mothers attempted to improve the picky eating behavior by introducing new foods or trying new recipes.

"Our results clearly show that the children were not given numerous and consistent exposures to unfamiliar foods over time," the authors write.

So what's a mother to do?

Satter's theory is to introduce new foods gradually -- to her diet and her child's. "Look at food in the grocery store and, at some future time, bring it home, cook it, but don't feel obligated to eat it," she says. "Eventually, get to the point where you want some on your plate or in your mouth. But then, you don't have to swallow it.

"The napkin trick is absolutely pivotal when it comes to food acceptance," Satter says. "It works like this: Put the food in your mouth, taste it, feel the texture, and take it out again. If you do this repeatedly meal after meal, eventually, the food becomes familiar enough that you'll like it."

What doesn't work, she says, is coercing, threatening, or rewarding the child to eat. "That just exacerbates the problem, and then you really do have a picky eater, because he will resist doing something that he's not ready to do," she says.

Moms need not be concerned about nutrition deprivation if they are routinely offering a variety of foods, having regular family meals, and not catering to the child's limited tastes, Satter tells WebMD. Instead, just continue to offer a variety of foods and let the child pick and choose from what is put on the table.

While the advice is easier given than followed, Satter acknowledges that, "Like a new song, food will grow on you."

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