What Makes a Picky Eater?

What Makes a Picky Eater?

The Things You Can- and Can’t- Change

Picky eating is a normal stage of childhood for most children.

However, some children continue to stay picky with time, contributing to concerns about their health. It’s important to remember that some things are in our control and others out of our control regarding our child’s picky eating.

Although we can’t control these uncontrollable factors, we can improve the ones we do have control over.

Picky Eating Habits

There are many ways to make the world of picky eating habits easier. For one, it is important not to punish or reward your child’s eating behaviors if you want them to learn how much better foods can taste when they’re consumed with an open mind and without guilt.

It also helps parents who have a fussy eater model their behavior by just trying new things.

Picky Eating in Young Children

Being a parent can be challenging. But, it’s not just the daunting tasks of staying on top of school, bedtime routines, and meal times that make it exhausting – children also have to try new foods!

It may seem like your child is alone in their firm refusal to eat anything but macaroni for dinner every night – you’re not alone. Many parents face this issue with their kids too!

Three Tips For Picky Eating Kids:

1. Eat at a specific location. Don’t let your child have snacks while they play, watch TV or walk around.

2. Be a role model for healthy eating and introduce new foods to the family members at regular intervals so that others can help in this as well.

3. Keep mealtimes as consistent as possible.

Adult Picky Eaters

It’s not just kids who are picky about food. Adults can be too and to the same degree! However, they usually have a minimal set of favorite foods they like in certain ways with specific textures or flavors.

That means that if something is new, smells different than usual, or looks weird-looking on their plate, then there may be no way for them to stomach it.

Three Tips For Adult Picky Eaters

1. Keep a healthy appetite. That means no snacking, which helps to increase hunger.

2. When trying new foods, it is best to do so in a stress-free environment.

3. If you are trying new foods, serve some of your old food along with it to not be overwhelmed.

Extreme Picky Eating/ Food Neophobia

A child with a selective eating disorder may have a hard time identifying any food they like. As a result, they can appear nervous when the topic of food is broached and will often refuse to try new foods, even if it’s something that would typically be enjoyed by their peers, such as pizza or pasta.

These kids are usually most comfortable consuming bread, soups, cereal bars in place of meals; because these items are less “risky” for them than other types of staples-type foods found at home or school cafeterias.

Children who suffer from Selective Eating Disorder (SED) feel anxious about trying anything outside what has been deemed safe for consumption beforehand.

Taste Buds

The taste buds in your mouth are responsible for giving you the sensation of tasting food and drinks. For example, when you put a bite of cheesecake into your mouth, those taste buds can detect sweetness with just a hint of sourness to it. They then send nerve impulses along their network that tell your brain what they’re feeling is delicious, which makes sense because who wouldn’t want another bite?

The tongue’s taste buds are located all over its surface and at the top edge, where we typically think about them being concentrated.

You might be surprised to know that your taste buds are much more than just a way for you to enjoy food.

They can also act as warning signs of certain health issues. If your preference changes seem sudden or unusual, it’s essential to talk with your doctor about what this could mean.

Individual Factors

Many individual factors influence how adventurous a child is with eating food. These are the traits that we are born with and are inherently part of how our bodies work. Some of this is genetic, for example, the genes that allow some people to be “supertasters,” or other genes that cause some people to dislike the taste of cilantro.

There is a whole range of how people taste bitter foods and whether they like them (like vegetables). For example, children who are more receptive to bitter tastes are much less likely to eat vegetables.

Another factor influencing this is our “sensory processing”- this may be a new concept to some people, but not to parents of children with autism. Children with autism commonly have sensory issues that limit the types of foods they like. All foods have sensory components related to their smell, taste, texture, and even sound.

We all experience these senses differently- some people may love the crunch of potato chips, while others find it torture. Unfortunately, some children can be susceptible to these sensory components, making them fearful of trying new foods.

The last factor is your child’s own personality and how adventurous they are. Usually, the way that children approach life is also how they approach eating.

Children who are more cautious or anxious are more likely to be fearful of eating new foods.

Family Factors

For parents of children who are picky eaters, there are many factors that you can try to work on to help your child explore new foods!

 The most important aspect is how you role model eating new foods. Even if you don’t like vegetables, pretend you do!

This effect is also true when kids see their friends, siblings, or even characters eating those same foods from television shows. Next, please encourage them to spend time in the kitchen or the garden with you. Cooking and gardening are both shown to help encourage children to try new nutritious foods.

The other factor is how your family focuses on mealtimes- your own unique rules and structure. For example, pressuring children to eat usually backfires. Instead, consistency can help when you repeat the same meal with the same food.

Anyone who was force-fed as a kid can generally attest to this; the food they were forced to eat is now one that they usually avoid eating at all costs! Having family mealtimes is one of the best strategies to support picky eaters.

Why Giving up on a Picky Eater is the Worst Thing You Can Do

At mealtimes, all of us come to the table with different levels of enthusiasm for trying new foods. Unfortunately, this is something we can’t change. However, we can change the factors in our control, like exposing a child’s diet to unfamiliar foods and suggesting that they try new foods.

Many of these strategies are not “miracle solutions,” but they support young kids trying new foods over time. As frustrating as it is, it’s important not to give up on them. Healthy eating is like any other skill that your child learns, such as potty training or reading.

It takes time and needs daily repetition and practice. Not every day will be perfect, but with time they learn. Treat picky eating the same way- keep encouraging positive habits and working on areas where you can make a difference- and they will get there with time.


Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take a picky eater to “get better”?

Every child is different. The majority will start to get less fussy around age 6, but some will take longer.

At what point should I talk to my doctor about picky eating?

It’s essential to bring your concern about picky eaters to your doctor at your child’s yearly check-in. They’ll want to make sure that no medical issues are impacting picky eating, such as constipation.

If your child completely drops a food group (for example, refuses to eat many fruits and vegetables, grains, meats, alternatives, or dairy products), it is necessary to make an appointment sooner.

If my child doesn’t eat, should I force them to?

Absolutely not. Force-feeding a picky eater can create power struggles between parents and children at meals. It does not work in the long term.

Author, Dr. Dina Kulik

Author, Dr. Dina Kulik

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