Dear Dr. Renaud:
I have a very picky eater. Thomas is four-years-old and goes through phases of eating that are driving me crazy. First, he won’t eat anything other than one item for weeks on end and then he doesn’t want that anymore and I can’t get him to eat anything else. I am worried that he’s going to starve to death. It ends up in a big fight and him in tears. What should I do?
Dear Worried Mom:
Thomas sounds like a typical four-year-old to me. This is a very normal phase of development for children. It’s a time where he is asserting his independence and testing his ability to control things.
There are several ways to deal with this that will make you both happy. In order to give him the independence and control he desires — and which are good for him — let him choose from a menu of food choices. They must be controlled choices though. At four, he is not capable of dealing with a question like: “What do you want for dinner?”
He will always default to what he likes best.
As a fun activity with him, create a picture file of food he likes. You can cut pictures from magazines, download them from the Internet, or he can also draw pictures. He’ll be a lot more co-operative when it comes time to choose items if he has had involvement in collecting the choices.
Sit down and create menu choices for no more than three days. Choose all three meals and snacks, just like you would do on a diet or healthy eating plan. This way, not only are you getting healthy food choices, but you are teaching him how to make good choices. Put your menu items on a white board or stick on the fridge (the fridge is a great place to keep things for kids, besides their artwork, as they are so easily seen).
He should be a lot more co-operative this way.
— Dr. Renaud