[LUDWIG@HOME] The Skinny on Picky Toddlers

I’m embarrassed to admit I’m jealous of my 2 1/2-year-old son’s physique.

Bubba might have stick-figure arms and chicken legs, but his stomach is on par with a Calvin Klein model. His secret is simple. The boy just doesn’t eat much.

It’s not that food isn’t available. In fact, he normally leaves half of his meals uneaten. I’d worry about malnutrition, but his doctors tell me not to be concerned. He’s growing at an appropriate pace, even though he and his 1-year-old brother now wear the same size diapers.

Bubba’s meager musculature has significantly softened my stand on mealtime menus. Prior to having children, I remember thinking that parents who make one meal for the adults and a separate meal for the kids were bonkers. Kids that only eat chicken nuggets must be spoiled, right?

“If they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat whatever’s on their plate,” I remember spouting off at a cocktail party back in my childless days.

Needless to say, I significantly underestimated a child’s resolve. Bubba’s hard head trumps my hard ass every time. The result is a steady diet of waffles, grapes, yogurt, raisin doughnuts (more commonly know as raisin bagels), peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches, and macaroni and cheese.

I’m a bit ashamed and concerned that my little Slim Pickens eats only small portions of a select variety of foods, so I called Sharon Donovan, a professor at the University of Illinois specializing in pediatric nutrition.

“Some days they (kids) are going to pick like birds and you might wonder how they survive,” Donovan said. “As long as they are growing and healthy, let them determine what their diet or variety is.”

Donovan said most kid-friendly foods are fortified with enough vitamins and minerals to satisfy a child’s basic needs. So while it’s best that kids have equal portions of all four food groups, it’s not necessary.

That’s good because Bubba survives mostly on carbohydrates and dairy products. Fruits and vegetables rarely get swallowed, and he eats less meat than most vegetarians I know.

Bubba’s puny physique is also not uncommon. Kids grow very quickly until the age of two. Then the process slows down, leading to a natural drop off in consumption. In fact, kids who don’t go through this slim period are at a higher risk for childhood obesity, Donovan said.

So it should be no surprise that Bubba is routinely outdone at the breakfast table by his baby brother.

Donovan also warned against confrontations at the table. There’s no way to force a child to eat, so don’t try. Instead, focus on being a good role model for your children. If your kids see you stressed out and hogging out on Haagen-Dazs, chances are they will too.

She then said something that sounded very familiar, basically that parents in poor countries don’t ask these questions. “It (the debate) is a result of being in a very pampered society,” Donovan said.

Sounds like something I once heard some loudmouth say at a cocktail party, “If they are hungry enough…”

Image by: Cindy Kalamajka, SXC

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