Why Is My Child a Picky Eater? A Scientific Guide to Fussy Eating

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Child picky eater
When mealtimes go awry

Anywhere between 13% to 22% of young children are picky eaters.

If you have some in your household, then you’ll know how difficult it is to feed your kids something that’s both nutritious and tasty to them. It can be doubly hard if you’re a wellness seeker who wants the entire family to eat wholesome foods together.

You’re not the first parent to struggle with this, and you certainly won’t be the last. This means there are some great solutions to food anxiety in children.

Read on to find out why your child might be a picky eater and what you can do to ensure they don’t end up deficient in nutrients.

Why Is My Child a Picky Eater?

To help your kids with picky eating (or neophobia), you need to first understand why this is happening. Below are several reasons why your children might be picky eaters.

They’re Just Not Very Adventurous

Your child just may not have an adventurous spirit, which means they aren’t comfortable going outside their comfort zones for anything, including food.

If they’re used to eating blander foods, then asking them to step outside the box with something more exotic can make them uncomfortable. Think of the foods they do eat as a sort of security blanket for your kids.

They’ve Had Bad Experiences

Maybe your child decided to finally try something new, but they didn’t like it. Perhaps you lost your temper at them for not finishing their food or their friends made fun of them for not liking the food.

Because they have bad memories associated with this experience, your kid is discouraged from going outside the box again.

They Have a Disorder

This is relatively new, but picky eating’s been classified as avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder in the DSM-V.

However, not all picky eaters have this disorder. Your child might only have it if their pickiness is severe. In that case, they may have some nutritional deficiencies.

Children who are autistic, depressed, or have OCD may have issues with particular foods as well.

Their Genes Are Different

With some foods, there are huge divides, such as cilantro. This herb tastes like soap for select people, so if your kids have that gene, they might not want to eat anything cilantro on it.

There’s also a gene where certain people taste broccoli as bitter. This might help explain why your children hate vegetables.

What You Can Do to Help

The best thing you can do to help your kids is to openly communicate about what you’re making for meals and even involve them in shopping and meal prep. This can help them be more open to trying new foods, especially when they can see how it’s prepared. You might even help them realize they have a passion for cooking, which can result in them expanding their tastes.

Here are some other things you can do to help your children with picky eating.

Don’t Force Foods on Your Children

The most important thing is to not force foods on them. This will make them even more resistant to expanding their palate.

Be patient and encouraging with your children. Slowly introduce new, healthy foods and just give them a few bites.

If they finish those bites, encourage them to eat more if they’re up for it. However, if your kids don’t like the new food, don’t press the issue, and certainly don’t force them to clean their plate before they can leave the table.

Never raise your voice or yell at your kids for not finishing their food. Even if they’re throwing a tantrum about an unwanted ingredient on their plate, remain calm.

Explain to them that if they really don’t like something on their plate, they can always push it to the side and eat around it or give it to someone else. This tip is important, as it can help reduce the number of meltdowns in restaurants and other public spaces.

Make Eating a Positive Experience

We mentioned earlier that negative experiences can discourage children from being adventurous with food. The opposite is true: positive experiences will have a lasting impression on your kids and reduce neophobia in the future.

Do your best to have positive responses when your children eat, even if they don’t like what they’re served.

You can even set an example for them by giving a food you don’t like another try. Explain the importance of giving things a second chance and be honest if you don’t like it the second time around.

Just remember to frame your responses in a positive light, keep things light, and make the dinner table a safe space. Even if you don’t like a food yourself, you can turn it into a constructive learning experience.

Don’t Make Separate Meals for Your Kids

You might be tempted to make separate meals for your picky eaters, but refrain from doing that. Not only does this add more work for you, but it also reinforces the idea for your children that they can be selective with what they eat.

A better option is to have alternative options on standby, just in case your kids really don’t like what you’re serving. This takes the pressure off of everyone and reduces the chances of stressful eating.

Help Your Kids Eat Healthy

Your child might be a picky eater now, but that doesn’t mean they’ll always be one. With some patience and gentle coaxing, you’ll be able to turn your kid’s food anxiety around. As a result, they’ll be more open to trying new foods, expanding their palate, and incorporating more wholesome foods into their diet.

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