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Worried about your child being a picky eater? Here’s all you need to know

child being a picky eater

Is your child not eating well? Do they give you a hard time dealing with meal time every day? Don’t worry, as you are not alone; approximately 60% of children go through selective eating phases at some point in their childhood. This mainly occurs during the preschool years. The prevalence of picky eating during the preschool years, especially between the ages of 2 and 5, has led experts to believe that being particular about foods is normal developmental behaviour for many children. Increased selectiveness about food choices occurs around the same time as other independence-seeking behaviors and usually reduces as children move into the school years.

When to worry?

Picky Eaters are usually healthy children just experiencing a self-dependence phase of their early life; in most cases, these children do well nutritionally despite being selective about foods. According to one study, most picky eaters—73.8%—were within the normal weight limits, compared to roughly 13% who were underweight and 13% who were overweight.

However, if the older children continue these behaviors, the more problematic the behaviors become. Research indicates that picky eating that extends into later childhood is often associated with later psychological diagnoses, including obsessive-compulsive disorders or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Another worrisome sign is falling below the average weight for age or BMI percentile, meaning that this behavior interferes with normal growth as well as it can lead to serious nutritional deficiency.

How to deal with picky eaters?

We know that dealing with this situation might be very stressful, especially since most children are acutely aware of their parent’s goals, emotions, and practices at mealtimes; thus, they tend to develop strategies for navigating food refusal and negotiating. So here are important tips that were proven to help overcome this problem.

  • Starting with having “no pressure,” “one more bite,” or using guilt or threats to encourage eating worsens the problem.
  • Allow children to choose the time to eat when they are ready or offer an option to reschedule to eat at the next mealtime.
  • Offer meals and snacks at fixed time intervals, with “open” and “closed” hours, for the kitchen to establish a schedule so the child knows what to expect and when. This can help ensure the child becomes hungry at mealtime.
  • Have a set place to eat meals, preferably on the family table at the same time as family meals.
  • Set the menu for a nutritionally balanced meal; try to include the usual food they like and new options to try.
  • Make mealtimes fun with child-friendly dishes or utensils with variant colors and food consistencies to make the child more curious about trying them.
  • Repeat foods that are refused at first. A child may need to be exposed to something 15 times before agreeing to try it or deciding to like it.
  • Teach children about nutrition and what food does inside their bodies.
  • Model healthy eating behaviors and allow messy feeds if necessary.
  • Don’t blame yourself or your baby for picky eating; seek extra help if needed.

An insight from mamahood

To conclude, a piece of advice to all mothers is to be patient during that phase and know that it’s no one’s fault. Most importantly, always adhere to the follow-up schedule with your child’s pediatrician to ensure healthy growth, development, and nutrition.

Our References

Mamahood content is written by practicing physicians and healthcare professionals who rely on evidence-based resources, the latest research, and their experience to ensure our users get credible and updated information they can trust.

  • Angraini DI, Arisandi R, Rosa E, Zuraida R. The relations between “picky eating” behavior and nutritional status of preschool children. IJND. 2021;9(1):49-55.
  • Schwarzlose RF, Hennefield L, Hoyniak CP, Luby JL, Gilbert KE. Picky eating in childhood: associations with obsessive-compulsive symptoms. J Pediatr Psychol. 2022; jsac006.
  • Feeding a picky eater: the dos and don’ts. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. October 31, 2019. Accessed June 6, 2022. dos-and-donts-feeding-picky-eaters.
  • Wolstenholme H, Kelly C, Heary C. ‘Fussy eating’ and feeding dynamics: School children’s perceptions, experiences, and strategies. Appetite. June 2022;173(1):106000.

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