One doctor's tips for dealing with a picky eater

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You want your kids to eat healthy foods, but what can you do if they only want a handful of favorites, like Chicken McNuggets and Goldfish?

Experts think as many as 25-percent of typically-developing children are finicky about the foods they'll eat.

The numbers of selective eaters may be much higher in children on the Autism spectrum.

Picky eating is one of the most common complaints CentreSpring MD's Dr. Taz Bhatia, who goes professionally by "Dr. Taz," says she hears from parents.

She says they typically describe the same mealtime scenario with their children.

"They only want the same color food or the same texture food," says Dr. Taz.  "They don't want to try any new foods and they keep wanting to eat the same thing for breakfast, lunch, and dinner."

But, in her Atlanta practice, Dr. Taz says, many picky eaters turn out to have underlying digestive problems. 

So, step one is ruling out gut problems.

"So, making sure they're going to the bathroom every day," Dr. Taz recommends.  "Making sure they're on a probiotic.  Making sure that they're staying well hydrated.  And, making sure they're not having digestive symptoms like reflux, belly pain, cramping, or things like that."

If your child is healthy, but unwilling to try anything but a few favorite foods, Dr. Taz says, try playing ingredient hide-and-seek.

Add healthier foods to the ones they're already eating.

 "For example, you can make mac and cheese with extra protein, or put an extra egg in it to pump up the protein content.," she says. "So, there are ways to hide things, change them, so they honestly don't even know half the time what they're eating.

Next, she says, negotiate with a picky eater.

"'Say, 'Hey, try one bite of this, and then you get to do this, taste this and maybe you can move on and have your favorite foods afterward,'" Dr. Taz recommends.  

Changing eating habits, and taste buds take time.

So, Dr. Taz says, be patient.  Go slowly.

"If they're used to a solely salty, high-sugar diet, then they're only going to respond to those foods that are high in salt and high in sugar," she says.  "So, maybe taking it on as a challenge to yourself that every week, you're going to reduce their salt and sugar consumption by a quarter. So that they don't really notice that there is that big of a change."

Finally, she says, try not to get stressed over mealtime.

"I think one thing parents forget is that children read us, and they read or energy," Dr. Taz says.  "And, if they can tell that we're getting hyped up, they are going to respond directly to that, and they'll have more of an anxiety response as well."