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posted: 1/14/2013 6:00 AM

Picky young eaters can grow up to like variety

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Q. My preschooler will eat only white foods. I'm worried he's not getting the proper nutrients to grow and develop. What can I do?

A. I'm not a pediatrician, but when I trained in pediatrics in medical school, I was amazed by how many parents brought their kids to the doctor because the kids were picky eaters.

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My pediatrician colleagues here at Harvard Medical School tell me that many "white food fanciers" start off as adventurous eaters. Then around the age of 2 or 2 1/2, they refuse anything with color. Instead, they opt exclusively for white or beige foods, usually carbohydrates. Favorites include plain noodles, chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes, white bread and white cheese.

The good news? By the time most children reach the age of 10, they're digging into a wide spectrum of foods.

While you're waiting for your child to mature, you might be wringing your hands, worried your little one isn't getting enough nutrients and fiber. But if your child is measuring within the growth chart and has energy to spare, there's probably nothing to worry about.

Of course, that doesn't mean you can't try to gently change your child's eating behaviors:

• Counteract your concern. Pressure and heavy-handed encouragement will likely backfire. If you can't stop worrying, speak with your pediatrician. For example, if your child's favorite foods don't include all the vitamins he or she needs, multivitamins in liquid or pill form may deliver what's needed -- until your child eats a more balanced diet.

• Set an example. Show your child that you enjoy making healthy food choices.

• Make white or beige smoothies. Make a smoothie out of soy milk and then add some white fruits such as pears, yellow apples or white grapes.

• Be sneaky. Combine cauliflower with mashed potatoes and your little one won't be the wiser. Try other ways to sneak vegetables in with beloved white foods.

• Opt for Cream of Wheat cereal. It's white and has a child's daily requirement for iron.

• Ask your child to help with simple food prep. By handling and touching different non-white foods without pressure to eat them, your child may be more likely to taste them at mealtime.

• Be patient. A typical young child needs multiple exposures to a new food before he'll risk tasting it -- and 10 to 20 tastes before he actually likes it. So give it time. (I was the opposite of a picky eater. My mother, playing off the "Build it and they will come" saying, once told me that I was a "Bring it, and he will eat" baby.)

• Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to AskDoctorK.com.

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