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Last Updated: November 15, 2020

A picky eating child eats food selectively, with a preference for limited food types over others. A typical picky eater will crave candy and fast foods over whole-grain meals and vegetables. At the end of the day, your child will eat less and the wrong food than is necessary for growth and overall well-being.

The ‘disorder’ affects close to a third of all children around the world.

There is no time frame when the habit starts but it is common in one-year-olds or thereabouts. At this age, children are grappling with new discoveries and distractions such as walking, talking, and running, and are tasked to choose between salty and sugary foods, in addition to oily recipes. They may lose interest in certain food types and develop a craving for others that are pleasant to the taste buds.

This behavioral pattern may persist up to 7 years and in rare cases, even further. When this happens, picky eating may graduate to a more disturbing disorder known as Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). This may happen because the child is extremely anxious and avoidant of food for fear of death or other reasons.

A typical picky eater may exhibit some or all of the following habits:

  • Eats less food than is necessary
  • Has a limited set of preferred foods
  • Wants food prepared in certain ways only
  • Unwilling to try new food types
  • Dislikes vegetables
  • Not interested in fruits

The disorder may happen because of the following:

  • A reflection of similar behavior in the parent
  • Sensitivity to food types
  • Inappropriate feeding patterns
  • Bad cooking
  • Pressure to eat
  • Unfavorable eating environment
  • Excessive calorie intake before mealtimes

Here are the fun tricks to get your picky eating child back to eating ways

Whereas parents need not lose sleep over picky eating, they may want to get worried if a child continuously avoids nutritious food types. The few tricks below should suffice to have your picky eating child back on the dining table.

serve just a little for a picky eater
You may want to serve only a little portion, every now and then. (Image by avitalchn from Pixabay)

1.  Prioritize mealtimes

The eating habits by parents, siblings, and everyone else in the house shape the dietary habits of the youngest family members. Toddlers basically look on, mimic, and absorb everything they see. They will pick up any good and bad eating habits that interest them.

On the other hand, a child will value fruits, leafy greens, and all the suspect servings if those around the dinner table are relishing them.

Further still, the atmosphere around the dining table will make them dislike or like food. The smile and interest that everyone shows that the food served is good or bad. It is important that everyone appears to like and enjoy the food before them, and come to think of it, everyone should actually relish the food placed before them.

2.  Be patient & creative

It is pointless to get hyper if a child loses interest in select nutritious foods, or fails to develop interest at all. Instead, establish a communication channel to get the matter sorted out. It is the child alone with the right idea why one type of food is good and another one bad.

Start by paying attention to the little details. Notice when your child pulls out food bites immediately after placing them in the mouth. Their taste buds are rejecting these foods, and only time will prepare them to change their mind.

Be willing to try out a variety of foodstuffs to make this exercise easy. Blend in a mix of colors, aroma, and taste.

At 2 years and over, discuss with her the benefits that come with eating certain types of food in place of others.

3. Portion matters

The younger children don’t often eat as much food and should not be forced to eat beyond their abilities. The very young toddlers may only need up to 1/4 of a cup of liquid, and 3 servings of protein. Anything beyond that could derail her eating drive. Only add on this quantity as she grows up, but again not too much.

4.  Implement set routines

The picky eating stage usually gets worse if a family lacks a correct eating schedule. It is a recipe for disaster when everyone is juggling cookies, juice, and other stuff every other time, or snack 30 minutes before a full meal.  With a partially filled stomach, your child will become averse to eating the now ‘planned’ meal, 30 minutes later.

Restricted time frames ensure a child is hungry enough to eat most of the foodstuff served. Three full meals a day is good enough with snacks and drinks served in between, but not close to the full meal.

5. Involve the picky eater in your plans

Seek the involvement of children to purchase and prepare meals. When out at the grocery store get them to select the fruits and veggies they want to eat, and not what you always want. Ensure these are important for nutritious value. Better still, get them involved in gardening and seeding food types which add value to their health.

They should be part of cooking to avoid complaints that food was not prepared well enough, or is lacking in ingredients. Of course, kids are not necessarily experienced in culinary matters but may teach you a thing or two.

You can also make food an important topic of discusssion at home. For example, let the child know that carrots will improve eyesight and leafy greens will help the body fight off common colds. On the other end, excessive intake of sweets, soda, and cookies will spoil the teeth.

6.  Physical activity may do the trick

It is no use forcing a child to eat the food he/she finds repelling. It ferments the picky eating habit even further. A child will assume that eating undesired food goes along with force.

Try out other tricks to get them to eat. Occasionally, use the hunger bait to get the job done. This may mean tweaking the eating schedule a little bit. Be careful not to make it a permanent habit, or starve your child.

To do this, leave children to play outdoors until hunger starts to bite. When a child rushes to find food in the house, have your preferred meals scattered around the house. Bananas, apples, pineapples, jackfruit, and whatever else is applicable will do the trick.

Be available to monitor these impromptu meal times to ensure they are done correctly. Add other healthy foods in the mix but caution must be taken to protect children from extended spells of hunger. This easily becomes a breeding ground for other complications such as stomach ulcers.

7.  Mealtimes minus technology

The extensive use of smartphones and tablets is also eating away the dining hours. While we all agree it is a habit that should not see daylight, it has become commonplace. Research indicates over a third of smartphone owners check their social platform feeds as they eat.

And now, with increasing mobility and families not having meals together, the habit is becoming hard to combat. After all, nobody is around to monitor or caution the errant eaters.

However, this should not be happening at the dinner table in your home. Mealtimes should be tech-free, to cut out addiction at the expense of food.