Watch out for empty calorie fluids

My son is three-and-a-half. He used to eat almost everything I set in front of him. Then he got picky. He would eat only a few things, macaroni and cheese, spaghetti, baked potatoes and a few others. His favorites used to be tomatoes, cheese, melon, and green beans. Now I'm lucky if I can get him to eat tomatoes. He will never eat meat of any kind.

My son drinks a lot of milk, he loves it, as well as iced tea, and koolaid (juices, too.) I don't see how I can get my son to eat anything. We sit down at the table with whatever I have made for dinner and if it's new to him he won't eat it no matter what I do to it. And hiding food in something he likes is definitely a mistake, because he will notice it once in his mouth and gag on it. I am worried that nutritionally, he's not doing very well.

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Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

I refer you back to other notes on the web page about dealing with picky eaters, and introducing new foods. However, I do want to comment specifically on a couple of comments that you made about your son's diet.

One, it is great that he likes milk, however, allowing him to drink too much of it will fill him up and destroy his appetite for other important foods. I suggest you limit his milk intake to no more than two glasses a day.

Two, iced tea and koolaid provide no important nutrition for him, but because they are sweet, they are filling him up with empty calories. Limit his intake of these fluids, or if possible cut them out entirely. You can help wean him from them by gradually diluting them until he doesn't like them, or until they are mainly water. You do have to be careful not to cut back his fluid intake too much by doing this. By cutting back his calorie intake from these items, you may notice that he is hungrier for food. For the same reason, keep juice intake to no more than 4 to 6 ounces, and be sure that the juice provides some nutritional benefit, such as vitamin C.

Finally, when a food his new to him, don't make a big deal out of it. Just let him get used to it. He may need to be exposed to it many many times before he will even try it. Toddlers are highly neophobic and will stay that way for many years. Be supportive and encouraging about him trying the new food, but do not bribe him or try and trick him into eating it. He may come around to liking the new food but he will have to do it on his own terms. He just may decide he doesn't like it, and you will have to try and respect that.

Just as adults have food likes and dislikes, so do kids. They just have more dislikes than adults! Eventually you will find which foods from all the different food groups he likes, and you will have to build a nutritious diet around those while simultaneously trying to increase the variety as you encourage the acceptance of new foods.

Thank you for writing.

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