“Parents can help by exposing children to new healthy foods again and again,” adds Dr. Ortiz. “Parents need to keep trying, as children can be relentless in their defiance. Sometimes, just having it on the plate in front of them over and over will work.”

Many children are picky eaters and need help when they won’t eat the amount or variety required to get the appropriate nutrients. A child living on a particular junk food may seem ok, but poor nutrient intake will eventually take a toll.

According to Ochsner Pediatrician Myriam Ortiz, M.D. (4845 Main Street, Zachary), about one in four kids has an eating problem in early childhood. Most quickly outgrow the fast-food only chicken nuggets phase, but 1-to-2 percent need professional assistance, such as feeding therapy. Physical problems, such as food allergies, developmental delays or metabolic disorders, underlie some cases.

“Some children only eat certain foods,” says Dr. Ortiz. “Others will eat little or nothing at all.”

Children often refuse to eat in order to attract attention from their parents. Oftentimes “picky eaters” will eat much better at daycare, this is likely because children have the tendency to eat better, and try new foods, when in group settings.

“Parents can help by exposing children to new healthy foods again and again,” adds Dr. Ortiz. “Parents need to keep trying, as children can be relentless in their defiance. Sometimes, just having it on the plate in front of them over and over will work.”

But well-meaning parents can accidentally promote bad behaviors—for example, letting kids end a meal by throwing a fit. A parent’s duty is to offer healthy, age-appropriate food in a pleasant atmosphere where the child does not feel forced to eat.

Dr. Ortiz has these tips for parents of a picky eater:

--Remain calm. In most cases, your child’s behavior is typical.

--Don’t force a child to clean his or her plate. If your child misses a meal, they will make it up later. Remember, children’s appetites fluctuate day to day.

--Minimize juices and any sweet drinks; Encourage drinking plain water.

--Dessert should follow a healthy meal, not replace one.

--Involve your child in the process of meal preparation. Children may be more apt to eat foods they helped to prepare.

--Make changes so gradual that your child doesn’t notice. If you know your child will balk after four bites, for example, stop after four bites. In a few days, try five or six.

--Praise good behavior, such as trying new foods.

--Be consistent. Make sure other caregivers follow your lead.

--Do not withhold food as a form of punishment.

--Reach out to your child’s pediatrician if your child’s nutrition is becoming critical, mealtime disruptions have worsened for months, progress has stalled—or you’re overwhelmed.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with an Ochsner practitioner, call 225-761-5200 or visit www.Ochsner.org/info to schedule online.

Contributed by Ochsner