You’ve all seen the articles where the writer brags about their young child eating spicy foods, clams, mussels, and every vegetable known to man. The parent gloats and takes full credit for the good eater they’ve created. And because this makes them an expert, they offer up advice which is usually something like “Don’t change a thing, just give your kid EVERYTHING you eat!”
Those parents with less-than-adventurous eaters may feel a pang of guilt for not offering their child clams or super-spicy foods.
But something vital is missing from these all-too-familiar messages about feeding: all kids are different. While parents have a strong influence over their child’s eating over time, each child comes into the world with their own eating personality. And figuring out what that is, and working around it, can help parents and children immensely.
In part one of our Picky Eating series, we helped you rule out whether or not your kid’s picky eating habits are normal. Now we are going to classify normal eating behavior to help you better understand your child. One quick note: if your child is under two their true eating personality may not be revealed yet.
Eating Style Types
In Fearless Feeding my coauthor and I discuss how every child eats differently based on a variety of factors:
Each child experiences his or her own taste and texture world. Some are more sensitive to the bitter tastes of vegetables, whereas others are not. the same family may have one child who is a sensory seeker, enjoying different textures and spicy foods, and another child who is more sensitive, needing extra time, and patience.
we describe three different types of eaters that often show up an early age or after picky eating hits by age two.
Eager Eater: These eaters will try and accept new foods easily and learn to like a variety of foods sooner than most children. Like some kids learn to talk or read early, these little ones are quick learners in the food department. They also tend to be big eaters.
It’s important o note that most babies up until about 18 monhts to age two are decently eager, eating most foods parents provide. This typically changes between the ages of 2 and 6. Yet really cautious kids usually show this tendency early.
Somewhere-in-between Eater: This is the category in which most kids are likely to fall. In general, they are cautious with new foods but over time, very gradually, add a variety of food to their repertoire.
Cautious: This eating personality often shows up when solids are first started. These children are extremely cautious with food and may take until middle childhood to learn to like a variety of foods. Some may even be “supertasters,” with a heightened sense of taste and texture.
Once you understand how your little one accepts new foods, you also have to consider their temperament. Are they stubborn? Easy going? Somewhere in between?
Why does this matter? It’s good to know if your kid does better with encouragement or not. Stubborn children are more likely to rebel while easy-going kids might do fine with a little push (no forcing of course).
My three-year-old is the in-between child, meaning some encouragement is okay but too much turns her off. I mainly talk to her about trying new foods when she’s not eating. Like a lot of kids, she takes pride in trying the food on her terms, when she’s ready. But an easy-going, enthusiastic eater is likely to accept encouragement easily.
How much they eat
I just went to a barbecue where I met an enthusiastic eating 7-year old girl. Before dinner, she snacked on fruits, cheese, vegetables, and crackers. She even made her own cracker sandwich with dried fruit and veggies. I thought, if this was my daughter, there’s no way she would touch her dinner after eating that. But this girl ate her entire dinner plus 2 servings of dessert. Oh, and she was tall and thin.
Just as kids accept a variety of food differently, they also eat different quantities. Bigger kids do not always eat more food than smaller ones. Each kid comes with their unique metabolism determining how fast or slow they burn calories.
If we try to force kids with little appetites to eat more, they eat even less. And if we try to restrict kids with big appetites, they’ll want to eat more. As parents, it’s important to recognize that different kids need different amounts of food.
Use it to your advantage
My daughter was a great sleeper from day one and responded VERY well to sleep advice. My son was colicky and did not. Luckily I armed myself with information about colic to help me get through the tough first 4 months. I had to accept that my son was not like my daughter in terms of sleep but I also knew he could end up a good sleeper if I stayed the course.
As a parent, you already know your child’s way of eating extremely well. But if you find yourself constantly frustrated, it’s probably because you are attempting to change an eating personality that is unchangeable. Maybe you are trying hard to get your late bloomer to be an enthusiastic eater. Or you are overly pushing your stubborn child to try new foods. Or you are trying to make your love-to-eat child eat smaller amounts like other kids.
But the best news is that all kids can grow up to be healthy and happy eaters. It’s just the road to get there will be different for each unique child. And this series will provide you with the tools you need to be successful.
So I’m curious. What kind of eater(s) do you have at home? I have a Somewhere in-Between eater who is semi-stubborn and eats a huge breakfast, medium lunch and picks at dinner. My littlest one’s eating personality is yet to be determined.
For more strategies on empowering picky eaters, check out Maryann’s book: From Picky to Powerful: the Mindset, Strategies, and Know-How You Need to Empower Your Picky Eater