In my new feature, “Ask GaGa,” I’ve been answering questions from grandmas who need advice. Today’s grandma is worried that her grandson is undernourished because his mother is not giving him enough to eat. Here’s her letter:
I am a grandmother to my 4-year-old grandson and I am worried that his mother is negligent in feeding him. She only feeds him once every 24 hours.
I am aware that a 4-year-old’s nutrition needs are at least 1200 – 1400 calories per day. When I have him for a whole day, he gets his breakfast, lunch and dinner with snacks in between.
He just started a full day of pre-school this year and while he is served a breakfast, lunch and 2 snacks during the 7-hour day, his teachers have told us that he does not eat any of this food. He has always been a picky eater so when I find something he likes, he eats it with gusto, (when I am babysitting him.) His Mom thinks if we do not feed him until the supposed dinner hour of 5 pm, then he will want to eat the food at school. However, if she only feeds him at 5 pm every day, then he only eats once every 24 hours, which I feel is negligent.
I am worried sick for the sake of my grandchild.
Worried Sick Grandma
Dear Worried Sick Grandma
I can understand your concern for your grandson’s nutritional needs. But you need to step back and look at the big picture. Is your grandson healthy? Is his weight normal for his age? Does he engage in activities at his pre-school? If the answer is yes, to all these questions, then your grandson is most likely getting the nutrients he needs each day.
Feeding a picky eater can be one of the most stressful parts of parenting. According to Katie Serbinski, a Registered Dietitian, and mom to three toddlers, handling picky eaters is a common challenge in the parent-child relationship. Parents want their children to eat a variety a foods for good reason: it will hopefully lead to nutritious eating habits for them and stress-free cooking for the parent.
Begin by having a conversation with your grandson’s mother to understand her strategies for getting him to eat. Be curious not judgmental. Try to understand her goal and ask how you can support her when your grandson is with you. Do not use the word “negligent” to describe her strategy and don’t suggest that your grandson may be “undernourished.”
Yes, you want your grandchild to eat well, but wisdom says tread lightly when it comes to discussing food issues with the parents. Today’s parents have some new theories about getting kids to eat, especially if they’re picky eaters. Registered Dietitian Katie Serbinski offers advice for handling picky eaters.
7 tips for handling picky eaters
- Be patient. It often takes up to a dozen times for a child to accept new foods. Even if your child refuses a “bite,” encourage your child to touch and smell the new food. Talk about the color and shape, not whether it tastes “so good!” And don’t label the child picky, at least not in front of him.
- Avoid sweet rewards. Try to limit offering a reward or praise for your child to try the new food. We want children to choose foods because they like the taste and they are hungry. Not because they are going to be rewarded with ice cream after dinner if they eat their broccoli.
- Serve with the familiar. Children are more likely to try a new food if it’s served with something they already enjoy eating. For instance, if your child loves pizza, make a build-your-own pizza bar with extra vegetable toppings for them to choose from.
- Get the family involved. Take your children to the grocery store [when you aren’t pressed for time] and get them involved in the picking and choosing of different foods. When you get home, have them help you prepare a new recipe or food — better yet, have them help you name or create a whole new recipe from scratch!
- Eat it together. The best way to teach your child to enjoy healthy foods is to enjoy them yourself. Practice what you preach.
- Serve it their way. If your child doesn’t like their food touching, serve new foods on a plate that has sections or compartments. If your child likes dips, such as ranch or BBQ sauce, serve it alongside the new food even if you think it’s a weird combination. Or swap out the ranch for hummus or bean spreads.
- Respect their appetite. If your child isn’t hungry, don’t force a meal or snack because it’s mealtime for everyone else in the family. While it’s important to stick to a mealtime routine [meals and snacks at the same time everyday], sometimes children aren’t THAT hungry. However, this doesn’t give them a pass for leaving the table while everyone else eats.
Here are a few more ideas when your grandson is at your house. You state that your grandson is a picky eater and you feed him what he likes at your house. Instead of always feeding him what he likes, try introducing him to new foods by offering him tiny portions of new foods in a fun way. It can often take up to a dozen times for a child to accept new foods. Take a small child’s plate and make a face using 2 peas for eyes, a slice of banana for a nose and a carrot stick for a mouth. Then have him pretend he’s going to eat the face one part at a time. It may take several tries before he’ll eat them but keep trying. Encourage him to create his own food art with some ingredients that you provide.