The habit of breakfast in infants
September 30, 2020
Full and well-balanced breakfast: what does it entail?
September 30, 2020

If your child is a picky eater

“What are these green little things”, “pew, what is that smell”, “but I am not hungry”…have you also heard your child complaining like this about their food? Your child’s picky eating or its reluctance to try new foods may be stressful for you, but remember that it’s your response that will determine whether this behavior will be prolonged in the future or whether it will gradually change!

It is important to recognize this stage of food rejection as a necessary transitional stage in your child’s development. Besides, it is only natural for a person who is just discovering the world to feel more comfortable with foods and meals they are already familiar with. Picky eating or neophobia emerge during the preschool age (2-6 years of age) while meta-analysis research has shown that already since the 2 years of age, one in four children regularly develop such behaviors.

Does my child receive all the nutrients they need?

If your child grows at the expected rate (based on the growth charts) and it’s healthy as well as energetic enough, you probably have no reason to worry about them receiving all the nutrients they need from their meals. So don’t start preparing a different meal if they start nagging about food – on the contrary, let them choose what they want and as much as they want from the selection already served on the table.

How should you handle it?

You should first remember that deceptive behavior (“no there is no dill in the soup”), bribing (“eat the broccoli and dad will buy you a train set”), threatening or punishments (“if you don’t eat it, you will go to your room”) are not part of a healthy dietary behavior. Your child’s acceptance of some foods may be a long process and it requires calmness and patience, not excessive enthusiasm (e.g. by making each spoon an airplane coming in for a landing in its mouth). So equip yourselves with patience and try the following:

  • Cooperate with your children when buying groceries and cookingGive them an active role by showing them trust, e.g. by letting them pick the nicest tomatoes or by stirring the soup (when at safe temperature). This participation will increase their enthusiasm and will likely encourage them to eat their meal.
  • Respect their hunger and fullness.Remember that a kid’s serving is smaller than an adult’s serving and let your child guide you in terms of the quantity they need – it is OK to leave some food on the plate. With smaller meals and snacks it is more likely that your child will be hungrier for the next meal and thus less fussy about it. Remember that they must not eat anything two hours before lunch or dinner.
  • Set a good example for them.Eat your meals around the same table. It is important for your child to watch you while you try new foods or discussing about different tastes, smells and textures and eventually associate different foods with pleasant memories and experiences.
  • Serve new foods first – when the feeling of hunger is greater, introduce only one new food at a time and in a small quantity – so that it doesn’t panic – and next to already familiar and favorite dishes. It may take more than 10 times for a child to be exposed to a new food before they actually try it.

So the more you don’t “make a big fuzz” out of your child’s rejection for some foods and the more you stick to a daily routine for your dietary habits by setting a good example for them, the more likely it is that throughout its school age your child will become less reluctant and you less stressed for the family’s weekly cooking/dietary schedule.

Indicative bibliography

  1. Ong C, Phuah KY, Salazar E, How CH. Managing the ‘picky eater’ dilemma. Singapore Med J. 2014;55(4):184-9; quiz 190.
  2. Lafraire J, Rioux C, Giboreau A, Picard D. Food rejections in children: Cognitive and social/environmental factors involved in food neophobia and picky/fussy eating behavior. Appetite. 2016 Jan 1;96:347-357.
  3. Trofholz AC, Schulte AK, Berge JM. How parents describe picky eating and its impact on family meals: A qualitative analysis. 2016;110:36-43.
  4. Cole NC, An R, Lee SY, Donovan SM, Correlates of picky eating and food neophobia in young children: a systematic review and meta-analysis, Nutr Rev. 2017 Jul 1;75(7):516-532.
Siatitsa Evita
MSc, Clinical Dietitian Nutritionist
Scientific Associate at Horokopio University

[/su_table]