Do you struggle to get your picky eater to eat a well-rounded, healthy diet? Do you know how to identify picky eating habits? These helpful strategies enable you to work with, not against, your child to boost his or her daily nutritional intake.
If your child or children has made up his mind when it comes to food he’s willing or not willing to eat, mealtime can start to feel like an uphill battle. Instead of caving to a stubborn desire to only eat buttered noodles or potato chips, try these strategies for parents of picky eaters to add more nutrients to their kids’ diets without a fuss.
Why is My Child a Picky Eater?
Maybe your children were ravenous and eager eaters as babies. But as they progress into toddlerhood, you might notice a decrease in his overall appetite or willingness to eat healthy foods. The first thing to know is that this decrease in appetite is totally normal.
Between birth and one year old, children gain an average of 7 kilograms. Between one and two years old, this growth slows to 2.3 kilograms on average. And the rate of weight gain continues to slow between two and five years old. Therefore, it’s normal for children’s appetites to decrease in line with their slowing growth rate.
However, refusal to eat or rejection of specific foods can become a problem for young children for a variety of reasons. There’s no scientific consensus on what defines picky eating. However, factors that can contribute to it include parental and social feeding styles, the timing of food introduction during early childhood, snacking patterns and avoidance of new foods.
Why is Picky Eating a Concern?
Do you need to be concerned about picky eating in your child? If the problem is ongoing and limits your child’s intake of essential nutrients, then it should be addressed. Fussy eating in young children can increase the risk of children and teenagers being underweight, having interrupted growth patterns, and developing eating disorders later in life.
In particular, picky eaters tend to have low levels of fiber, iron, and zinc in their diet due to a low consumption of fresh produce and meat. These nutrients are essential for healthy bone and muscle development as well as digestion.
Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters
So what can you as a parent do to address signs of picky eating? Here are some tips to help navigate your child’s developing appetite in a healthy, well-balanced way:
First, be patient. It’s likely that the more you push your child to eat foods she doesn’t want, the more convicted she will become in her refusal. Parental pressure can cause children to develop an unhealthy relationship with food and negative associations with the very foods you want them to enjoy. Here are 4 tips on how to encourage healthy eating habits for kids.
Don’t deny your child her favorite foods. Always aim to serve meals that include at least one food your child loves. The goal is to encourage your child to enjoy mealtime, not dread it. Try these 5 healthy and kid-approved recipes.
Be a positive role model. The more your child sees her parents and siblings enjoying healthy food, the more likely she is to want to see what all the fun is about. And the more often a child is exposed to new foods, the more likely she is to warm up to them and give them a try.
Avoid between-meal snacking. Children should be hungry for meals, not full of processed snacks or sugary drinks. A bad lifestyle can also have negative effects on bone health.
While these strategies can take some time to change your picky eater’s habits, they can all play a role in helping your child develop a healthy, joyful approach to eating that will benefit them throughout life.
If you’re still concerned about nutritional gaps in your child’s diet, adding a daily calcium supplement is an easy way to ensure she’s getting the nutrients she needs even without finishing her broccoli.
1 Leung, A. K., Marchand, V., Sauve, R. S., & Canadian Paediatric Society, Nutrition and Gastroenterology Committee (2012). The 'picky eater': The toddler or preschooler who does not eat. Paediatrics & child health, 17(8), 455–460. https://doi.org/10.1093/pch/17.8.455
2 Taylor, C. M., Wernimont, S. M., Northstone, K., & Emmett, P. M. (2015). Picky/fussy eating in children: Review of definitions, assessment, prevalence and dietary intakes. Appetite, 95, 349-359. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2015.07.026
3 Taylor CM, Emmett PM. Picky eating in children: causes and consequences. Proc Nutr Soc. 2019 May;78(2):161-169. Epub 2018 Nov 5. PMID: 30392488; PMCID: PMC6398579. doi:10.1017/S0029665118002586.