Picky Eaters

It could be almost anything in the kitchen that sends an otherwise calm child over the edge.

Your previously healthy eater could suddenly decide that he hates green food, or she won’t eat anything but cold, cooked spaghetti.

After a few weeks he might decide that yellow food is out, and she might switch to eating only bagels.

While picky eating can be a pain, there is very little to worry about. Up to two thirds of children go through picky patches, and as long as their development is otherwise on track they won’t end up any worse for it.

Rather than worry, have patience with your picky eaters and chances are their behaviours will correct themselves on their own.

Causes of Picky Eating

There are no medically recognized causes of picky eating, however studies have shown that it usually peaks around preschool age and then declines until about age 10. After age 10, children’s food habits will remain fairly steady.

Observing what your child will and will not eat may give you some clues as to the underlying causes of their behaviour. For example, observe:

  • Which food groups are refused – this could be an indication of a food allergy.
  • If a particular colour of food is refused or accepted – this could be simple personal preference.
  • If a particular texture of food is refused or accepted – again, this could point towards a personal preference.
  • If listless behaviour or pain follows eating – this could be a sign of gastroesophageal reflux or any underlying digestive track disorder.
  • If pain accompanies eating – this could indicate tooth or mouth sensitivity or disease.

Tips for Dealing with Picky Eaters

If you are loathe to wage an all out food war with your picky eater, try a variety of these tricky tips instead!

  • “Hide” nutritional food in food that your child will eat. For example, if your child will eat pizza, make your own fresh tomato sauce or hide some mushroom slices under the cheese.
  • Add new foods as a side dish. If your child loves a roast, serve a new vegetable on the side.
  • Let children help you with the grocery shopping. Include them in meal preparation from the shopping to the serving and they might be more willing to eat.
  • Set out a new snack when you know your children are hungry. If they really are in need of food and you have a lovely fruit salad ready, they just might eat it.
  • Replace junk with fresh, fast food. Keep baby carrots, apple slices, grapes and cheese sticks in the fridge so kids can grab and go.
  • Catch children’s attention with presentation. Use cookie cutters to make sandwiches in different shapes or raisins to make a smiley face on toast. If food appeals to children, they are more likely to eat it.
  • Ask you child to try just one bite of a new food. When they have chewed (and swallowed!) one bite, allow them to give their opinion.
  • Turn food tasting into a game. Tell children you need their expert opinions on tasting a new dish, and allow their verdicts to guide menu planning.
  • Insist that your child take a multivitamin everyday to ensure nutritional standards for vitamins and minerals are met.

When to Appeal for Help

For some parents, patience can wear thin when picky eating goes on for a year or even longer. Discuss your picky eater with your GP if:

  • Your child fails to gain weight.
  • Your child loses weight.
  • Your child fails to grow.
  • Your child has difficulty with chewing or swallowing.
  • Your child experiences pain after eating a certain food group.
  • Your child experiences pain after eating all food.
  • Your child expresses fear regarding food.
  • Your child regularly vomits after meals (not self-induced).
  • Your child drools excessively while eating.
  • Your child gags while eating.
  • Your child refuses to eat at all.

For the most part, picking eating is a childhood phase. The majority of picky eaters resume normal eating behaviour by their tenth birthday, though some may take relatively minor picky eating habits on into adulthood.

If you are concerned about your child’s health, appeal to your GP for help, otherwise just try to grin and bare it – and sneak in a few new foods when your child isn’t looking!

See Also
Toddler with a bowl of fruit
A Healthy Toddler Diet
Toddler eating pasta and vegetables
Ensuring Good Toddler Nutrition