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Child Caring

Rule out medical issues before you decide you have a picky eater

I have a 4 year old son who does not want to eat healthy food at all. The only foods he gets in is baloney sandwich, peanut butter sandwich, fried chips, vienna's, some fruits, wheatbix for breakfast and sweeet stuff. I am concerned about his health, and need advise on how to get him to eat meat, veggies and so on. I never use to have this problem when he was a baby, it all started when he was a year and few months. He is also someone who loves rooibos tea (black). I need help please. I am so concerned about his health and diet. Many people tells me it just a phase, but a phase can't last this long.
From: Veronique, Pretoria, South Africa

Hey Barbara

I have a serious problem with my 4 year old son, he doesn't like food at all, he wants to eat noodles in the morning and night, he doesn't even finish a packet of it, he gets full half way, starts complaining about his stomach is full & sore..

He drinks sugar water at night & he makes up crying for it in the middle of the night,after playing with friends, he comes looking for his water...

He prefer youghurt, noodle ,sugar water only, he doesn't like veg,he cries wen I try giving it to him...
He never eats porridge, he acts like his about to vomit when you feed it to him...please help me, I thought he will get better at this age but nothing changes ..

From: Worried mom, Port Elizabeth, South Africa


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Dear Veronique and Worried Mom,

Before you look at behavioral modifications, my advice to both of you is to start with your pediatrician to rule out medical problems. As I've said in this space before, some children eat poorly because they have allergies or food intolerance that cause them to be literally nauseated by certain foods. Some kids have anxiety issues that translate to loss of appetite, while others have true medical issues such as gastrointestinal disorders. You may need a referral to a specialist to know for sure.

Once -- and if -- all of the above get ruled out, then you can begin to consider other strategies such as preparing a meal that includes at least something you know he likes along with other foods he might not like. Don't make a fuss about it. This is the meal you've created. Take it or leave it. The more we nag at our young children about eating, the more likely they will resist us. The more attention we give their poor eating, "You're such a bad eater," the more that becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy, a habit and a way for them to get negative attention.

One researcher once told me It can take children up to 70 times of seeing a "new" food before it no longer is new to them. Once you know from the doctor that your child is not in danger nutritionally and there is no medical problem, then you should feel comfortable pulling back from catering to his demands. This is a process that takes patience and time. Here's my Q&A with eating specialist Ellyn Satter about picky eaters.