Kids Picky Eaters. The Key Point to Know.

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Dr. Sandro Cantoni. Pediatrician.

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When a child is very selective in their choice of food and has little appetite, they’re diagnosed with “peaky eating.” The problem lies more often than you might think. It can be difficult for parents who have these children because it becomes complicated to convince them to eat other things instead. The child may not be interested in trying new foods and can be pretty determined about what he wants to eat. There are a few ways to help encourage a “peaky eater” to start eating other things, and it will require patience and perseverance from the parents.

When a child is a Picky Eater?

The child’s favorite food becomes the only one he or she will eat. This can lead to refusing other foods, like vegetables and fruit because they don’t want anything else but their particular selection of cuisine for dinner each night. This is a fairly common phase during childhood between 2-3 years old.

It’s normal for the child to be a little choosy. 

Between the ages of two and three, it’s normal for children to show signs that they are becoming more selective in choosing foods. They may say “no” to things on their plate, including food items such as meat or vegetables. In addition, there’s “neophobia”, meaning dislike for new foods–usually anything not eaten before then (like seafood).

When a child skips some meals, it’s important to avoid giving them anything as long as they eat. Of course, parents should worry when their kids don’t have time for breakfast or lunch–but unless this goes on for many days, there are no real consequences in return, other than possibly feeling hungry later in the day!

What can I do?

When this happens, it’s critical to keep your cool and be patient. Don’t get irritated; don’t express annoyance at this behavior that is quite common for kids of this age.

No fighting over food.

When children refuse food, do not force or nag them. It’s best that they’ve gotten used to listening to their bodies’ alerts and that hunger drives them to eat. It’s possible that if they had a big breakfast, they won’t be hungry until later in the day. Parents are responsible for providing the food; it is up to the children to decide whether or not to eat it. When children are forced to eat against their wishes or subjected to punishment if they don’t, their resistance to food is only going to increase.

Offer a variety of foods and flavor them.

At least twice a week, you should offer your child a variety of nutritious meals, particularly fruit and vegetables, as well as high-protein foods like meat and fish (with no bones) to help them learn to enjoy different tastes and textures. It’s usually a good idea to cook these foods in different ways: roast, fry, steam, and so on. This way they can discover which ones they like best. You can try adding different flavorings to meals to make them more appealing.

It is important to continue trying even if your child doesn’t seem interested in changing their eating habits. Keep offering them new foods and don’t give up, since this is a common challenge for parents of “peaky eaters.”

To reduce food waste, it is better to prepare small quantities of new foods and wait at least a couple of weeks before offering them again, if they have been strongly rejected.  This will help you avoid waste and save money.

One way to encourage your child to eat more healthily is to get them involved in the cooking process. Let them choose which vegetables they want to include in a dish, or give them their own small frying pan to cook food in. This will help them feel more engaged with the meal and more likely to try it.

Taking care of the family’s eating style

It might be a good time for the whole family to try to eat healthily. Try to be at the dinner table together whenever possible. Television and cell phones should be turned off. 

It’s crucial to serve the same meals to everyone, but if a kid refuses what is on the plate, don’t fall into the trap of preparing other things. In this way, you reinforce his lack of appetite and selectivity. Each meal should include at least one food that the child likes. Then complete the rest of the menu in a balanced way, even if the child does not like the other foods. Try not to make a big fuss about it.

If you have to work late, it is important to have a plan for dinner. You can either have something ready to eat or have someone else prepare a meal for the family. If you choose the second option, make sure that the food is healthy.

Try to prepare visually appealing, colorful foods.

Prepare colorful foods, perhaps even in fun shapes. The child will probably enjoy them more. For example, colorful fruits or vegetables, are cut into different shapes, which the child can pick up with his fingers. Make small, soft pieces to avoid choking hazards.

A child’s diet should include a variety of colors. This is because different colors represent different nutrients that are important for the child’s growth and development. 

Don’t use “junk food” as a reward for eating healthy food.

In this way, the child values healthy food less and sees it as a necessary obligation to have their favorite food, such as a piece of chocolate.  In the long term, this could lead to an unhealthy diet and weight problems.

A better way to reward a child for eating healthy food is to praise them for making a good choice. This will help the child feel good about themselves and make them more likely to eat healthy foods in the future.

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About the author

Hi. My name is Sandro Cantoni. I’m a Pediatrician. I work in the General Pediatric Clinic. Hospital of Neuchatel, Switzerland.

References

Taylor CM, Wernimont SM, Northstone K, Emmett PM. Picky/fussy eating in children: Review of definitions, assessment, prevalence and dietary intakes. Appetite. 2015 Dec;95:349-59. 

Taylor CM, Emmett PM. Picky eating in children: causes and consequences. Proc Nutr Soc. 2019;78(2):161-169. 

Samuel TM, Musa-Veloso K, Ho M, Venditti C, Shahkhalili-Dulloo Y. A Narrative Review of Childhood Picky Eating and Its Relationship to Food Intakes, Nutritional Status, and Growth. Nutrients. 2018 Dec 15;10(12):1992.

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