Why you might want to have a food fight with your young children
Have a child who is bothered by the sights, texture and tastes of food? That could either be a picky eater or a problem feeder.
So what's the difference?
Dr. Chaye Lamm Warburg, director of Pediatric Occupational Therapy Services in Teaneck and Waldwick, said several criteria must be looked at to see if a child's eating habits are a preference or a problem.
A typical child or a picky eater usually eats 30 foods. A problem feeder usually eats less than 20 foods. So Warburg said just by counting foods, a parent can get a sense.
Then there's food jagging, when a child eats the same food over and over again, but suddenly refuses it — another sign of a problem feeder.
Sometimes a child won't eat a food of a certain texture, or will drop a food group all together. Warburg said that means they're either missing all proteins, all carbohydrates or all fruits and vegetables from their diets, and that's not healthy.
Typically it takes 10 tries of a positive experience for a child to adopt a new food, Warburg said. Picky eaters take 25 to 30 tries to learn to eat a new food. But problem feeders typically take less than 25 tries.
Warburg said she'd like to set straight the myth that eating is the body's first priority — if eating interferes with breathing, then eating becomes noxious. She said it's more critical for your body to breathe and remain upright and in control than it is to eat.
There are red flags parents should be aware of when dealing with picky or problem eaters. One obvious one is kids who fall off their curve or lose weight, Warburg said. Kids who cough or gag the minute they see food, kids who vomit, kids who have traumatic choking incidents or who won't even bring food up to their noses are having serious problems.
But Warburg said picky eating can start at a very young age, especially among kids who have difficulty transitioning to baby food, and kids who have difficulty transitioning off baby food to solid foods.
Warburg said there are many things parents can do to help their kids eat better. When presenting food, take it all out of the packaging. Food should be presented on plates or in bowls. That way, kids are less likely to keep up associations between how foods are packaged and whether they're willing to eat them. That's very important for kids who are eating over their friends' houses or eating in school
At dinnertime, remember when food is on the table, it takes about 10 positive presentations of a new food for it to become acceptable. "So for kids who are little we are ridiculous and playful and messy with food," Warburg said.
She said break bread into sticks and build something on the table. Do the "choo-choo" train to make food friendly. Play bowling with eggplant and oranges, or have a good, old fashioned food fight.
By this time, kids have touched, smelled and tasted the foods several times. Do whatever it takes to create positive associations with food, Warburg said. When kids are done eating, Warburg suggests having them kiss their food goodbye so their lips touch it and throw it in the trash.
When kids are restricted, she said, parents should intervene right away. Don't let them become part of the "beige food group." That's when kids are reduced to eating safe foods such as cheerios, pasta, bread, pretzels and bagels. That's when nutrition becomes compromised.
On the dinner table, there should a variety of colorful foods. Some foods should absolutely be foods a parent knows the child will eat. Some should be spin-offs of safe foods and others should be completely different. Have kids pass food around the table and make sure they take a little bit of everything on their plates.
But Warburg cautions once again, "It will take multiple presentations before it's accepted."
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