A picky eating child eats food selectively, with a preference for sweetened and fast foods over whole-grains and vegetables.
By eating this way, she will end up eating less food than is required for physical, cognitive, and overall health. This will impact her timely achievement of development milestones.
When does picky eating take root in children?
There are no cutout years when the picky eating habit kicks in, but it is common in one-year-olds and thereabouts.
At this time in life, the little ones are battling with childhood discoveries, while being asked to choose from a long list of foods – some of which do not make sense to them.
They will naturally favor sweet, salty, oily foods, in addition to candies, and disregard food types that taste flat.
A typical picky eater may exhibit some or all of the following traits:
- Eats less food than is necessary
- Has a limited set of preferred foods
- Only wants food prepared in certain ways
- Is unwilling to try new food types
- Dislikes vegetables
- Not interested in fruits
Besides battling childhood discoveries, the disorder can happen because of the following reasons:
- 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
The picky eating ‘disorder’ affects close to a third of children around the world, and may persist in some until they are 7.
When this happens, the eating problem has transformed into a more disturbing habit known as Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). This may happen because your child is extremely anxious, and avoids certain foods for fear of death and other reasons.
Here are fun tricks to get your picky eating child back to eating ways
Whereas you probably need not lose sleep over picky eating, you should be worried if it continues for long and your child’s overall health is deteriorating.
Still, a few tricks listed below should be good enough to have your picky eating child back to eating ways.
1. Prioritize mealtimes
Your child will adopt healthy eating habits, provided everyone else in the house does the same. These include parents, siblings, and everyone else who frequents and eats in the house.
Toddlers basically look on and mimic everything they see around them, including the eating habits of siblings and other family members.
They will pick up what they see, because they assume it is the right thing. They will want to stay away from leafy green vegetables if that is what they see, and they will value fruits, veggies, and all the suspect servings if you and others around the dinner table relish them.
Furthermore, the atmosphere around the dining table will make children want to dislike the suspect food types. The show of interest or lack of it will tell the little ones whether the food being served is good or bad.
It is important that everyone likes and enjoys the food placed before them.
2. Exercise patience & creativity
Do not panic if your child loses interest in select nutritious foods, or fails to develop interest at all. Instead, establish a communication channel and creative means to make food appealing.
It is the child alone with the right idea why one type of food is good and another is 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 will reject these foods, and only time will prepare them to change their mind.
Be willing to try out different 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 of eating certain types of food in place of others.
3. Portion matters
Children don’t often eat as much food and should not be forced to eat beyond what they can. Toddlers may only need up to 1/4 of a cup of liquid, and a small portion of a fruit serving.
Anything beyond that could derail her eating drive. Increase the quantify slowly, and only as she grows up.
4. Set eating routines
The picky eating habit usually gets worse when a family lacks a laid out eating schedule. It is a recipe for disaster when meal times are scattered throughout the day, and some are skipped.
Even worse, it is bad when everyone is eating cookies and other crackers every other time.
In addition, your child should not snack 30 minutes before a full meal. With a partially filled stomach, she will not eat sufficiently the now ‘planned’ meal time, 30 minutes later.
Restricted time frames will ensure your child is hungry enough to eat most of the foodstuff served before her. Three full meals a day are good enough, with minimal snacks and drinks served in between.
5. Involve the picky eater in your culinary plans
Seek the involvement of your child in purchasing and preparing meals. When out at the grocery store, get her to select the fruits and veggies she will want to eat. Beware not to force her to seek what you always want.
Better still, get her involved in gardening and seeding food types that add value to her health.
She should be part of the cooking to prepare what she wants and avoid complaints that food was not prepared well enough. Your child may not necessarily have experience in culinary matters, but may teach you a thing or two.
You can also make food an important topic of discussion at home. For example, let the child know that carrots will improve the eye sight, and vegetables will help keep common colds and flu at bay. Better still, both are fantastic for skin health.
On the other end, let her know that excessive intake of sweets, soda, and cookies will spoil the teeth and actually precursors to weight gain and diseases such as diabetes.
6. Physical activity may just do the trick
Do not use force to get your child to eat the food he/she finds repelling. This may actually ferment the picky eating habit even further. She will then assume that eating undesired food goes along with force.
Occasionally, use the hunger bait to get the job done. This may mean tweaking the eating schedule a little bit.
To do this, leave her to play outdoors until hunger starts to bite. When she runs indoors searching for what to eat, have your preferred meals scattered around the house.
Preferable treats should include bananas, apples, pineapples, jackfruit, and whatever else is applicable. This should do the trick most of the time!
Monitor these impromptu mealtimes 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 can easily become a breeding ground for health complications such as stomach ulcers.
7. Mealtimes minus technology
Smartphone and tablet indulgence can also eat away a chunk of the dining minutes if left unchecked.
Research shows that a third of smartphone owners worldwide check their social platforms even as they eat.
Ensure this is not happening at the dinner table in your house. Endeavor to make mealtimes tech-free, and you will probably get your child back to eating ways.
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 and caution the errant eaters when they are alone and multitasking junk with technology.