A child who demands pancakes morning, noon, and night could drive any parent nuts. But such high-maintenance behavior is typical of toddlers. "They love repetition," says Paula Peters, Ph.D., associate professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University, in Manhattan, KS. "And choosing what they’ll eat is one of the first ways they assert their independence."
Most food fads last only a couple of weeks, though it can seem like an eternity, especially if you’re concerned about your child’s diet, says Peters. "But if you consistently offer him different healthy foods, he’ll eventually take in all the nutrients he needs." To get through a food kick:
GIVE IN TO CRAVINGS. "Matter-of-factly give your child his favorite food, but put just a small amount of it on his plate so that he samples other dishes," suggests Peters.
DON’T FORBID A FOOD. A recent study at Penn State University suggests that (as any seasoned parent could have told you) restricting a food increases its appeal. Instead of banning your child’s favorite, set some limits — offering a half a fruit bar, for instance, rather than a whole.
SERVE UP HEALTHY FARE. "When a food kick ends, you want nutritious choices available," says Robert Squires, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas. So always offer fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain breads.
HAVE A TWO-BITE RULE. "Encourage a child older than age 3 to take two bites of everything served," says Dr. Squires. "Then let him have what he wants." And be realistic — a spoonful doesn’t have to be heaping.
ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES. Remain calm, even if food ends up on the floor. You don’t want dinnertime to become a battleground.