Picky Eating: What’s All The Fuss About?
Having a picky toddler at the table can be difficult. Maybe your toddler is adamant about avoiding that side of broccoli you made for lunch. And when dinnertime comes around, maybe you can’t convince them to try a spoonful of that delicious soup you whipped up. While the situation can be frustrating,know that you’re not alone! Picky eating is common in toddlers. As a matter of fact, 30-50 percent of parents say their toddler is a picky eater.1 Luckily, the situation is often temporary and will improve as your child gets older. Picky eating peaks during toddlerhood and starts to wane as children reach school age.2
Even though picky eating may not last forever, it’s still important that your toddler gets enough fruits, veggies and other essential foods to support their nutrition. Read on to learn what causes picky eating and ways you can help manage the situation.
What Is Picky Eating?
There isn’t one universally accepted definition for what a “picky eater” is. Picky eating is typically described as an unwillingness to eat familiar foods or try new foods as well as strong preferences. Here are some typical picky eating behaviors to look out for:
Your toddler avoids foods that are a certain color or texture, such as refusing to eat any vegetable that is green.
Your toddler only eats certain types of foods. For example, your child may decide they only want to eat pasta for a week and nothing else.
Your toddler won’t eat at the dinner table and does things to waste time and avoid eating.
What Causes Picky Eating in Toddlers?
What makes toddlers picky eaters? Depending on the child, reasons for picky eating can vary. For example, your toddler may simply be more sensitive than other children to certain tastes, smells and textures in foods, which may affect their eating habits.4 On the other hand, environment may influence what foods your toddler likes and doesn’t like to eat. For example, if you’re a picky eater yourself and only serve your toddler the foods you like, he or she may develop similar eating habits.5
When it comes to picky eating, part of it may come down to your toddler’s energy levels and disposition. For example, if your toddler is active and likes to move around, sitting down at the dinner table for an extended period of time may be hard. Also, some toddlers are more cautious or wary of trying new foods. If your toddler only eats foods that they know and recognize, it could be a sign they are scared or uncomfortable with trying new foods.
Don’t forget, sometimes toddlers like to push the boundaries, too! It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it just means your toddler is going through process of testing the waters and learning what’s acceptable behavior. If they see another family member or playmate refuse to eat a certain good, they may do the same thing.6 And while it may seem counterintuitive, encouraging them over and over again to eat may have the opposite effect. Studies show that pleasing, bribing, scolding or trying to coerce your child to eat may actually reduce food intake.7
Occasionally, young children can have an underlying medical condition that may cause a decrease in appetite and food avoidance.8 If this is the case with your little one, get in touch with your health care provider as soon as possible for advice.
How Can You Get Picky Kids to Eat?
Reasons for why toddlers are picky eaters can vary, and there isn’t one single way you can get your toddler to clean his or her plate at every meal. However, there are certain healthy eating habits and behaviors you can foster to help your little one get all the nutrients he or she needs while you wait for them to outgrow their picky eater stage. Here are a few tips and tricks to help you with your picky kid:
• Feed your toddler when they’re hungry, and don’t force food on them if they aren’t; making your child eat when they don’t have an appetite may cause them to associate eating with negative feelings like anxiety.
• Serve your child nutritious, well-balanced meals regularly with fruits, veggies, protein and more to help them establish a well-varied diet and get familiar with a variety of foods.
• Try to limit or avoid sugary or high-caloric drinks and snacks throughout the day; grazing may ruin your toddler’s appetite and cause them to avoid food served at meals.
• Get them involved and make mealtime fun! Ask your child to come with you to pick out ingredients at the grocery store, or assign them tasks such as washing the veggies prior to eating. If your toddler enjoys and feels involved in the cooking process, they may be more likely to eat the food during mealtimes.
• Limiting Distractions will help your child focus on eating. Turn off tv's and other electronic gadgets during meals.
• Be patient! Toddlers tend to be a little scared of trying new foods, so try to keep in this mind. Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint!
Learn more about picky eating and how to feed a picky toddler today.