As parents we all know that our children need a variety of healthy foods and nutrients to help them grow. We also know that the eating habits formed in childhood can last their whole lifetime. We’ve all read books, spoken to pediatricians and to our friends and family about the ideal diet for our children. Then, real life happens. Our schedules are so busy, our kids never seem to like the same food as their siblings, the dinner plan that sounded like such a great idea just didn’t work out the way you envisioned… Add a picky eater to this scenario and meal times can go from being a highlight of the day to a stressful headache!
We spoke with Registered Dietitian Nutritionists Christine Randazzo Kirschner and April Panitz, co-founders of the Rivertowns based Amenta Nutrition, who shared some great information and advice about picky eaters.
What is Picky Eating and how common is it?
Picky eating is defined as the inadequate consumption of a variety or amount of both familiar and unfamiliar foods. If you have a picky eater, you are not alone! A recent meta-analysis estimated that 22% of children over 30 months of age are picky eaters, meaning 1/5th of families experience this feeding issue. In cases of extreme picky eating, failure-to-thrive or Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) can ensue.
Is there a reason why some children are picky eaters?
There are many reasons that a child becomes a picky eater. We always tell parents that each family is different and everyone has their own story. With so many possible contributing factors, it is imperative to look at the whole picture. Oftentimes, it’s not just about the food, and that is surprising to many. Some influences may include the amount of structure in the home, how and where you feed your child, if you include them in food-related decisions, as well as the child’s developmental stage, their personality, and their food preferences (taste and texture).
Children are like sponges, and a parent’s behavior and eating habits will likely influence how their own child behaves and eats. If your child sees you enjoying fruits and vegetables, they will be more likely to enjoy those same foods, too. If a child hears you making negative comments about a food’s attributes, she will often feel the same way. Parents must model the behaviors and attitudes that they want their children to have, not only about food but this is true for things like exercise and sleep habits too!
“Most kids don’t like vegetables”
It is true that some kids are supertasters. In this case, broccoli may taste more bitter to them than to another child, and therefore it may not be their favorite food. But, for the most part, there is no reason a child should not enjoy vegetables. They may have texture and flavor preferences, but this is part of the parent-child communication and the level of autonomy the child has. What if you add a garnish of parmesan cheese, sprinkle turmeric, or add a spritz of lemon to their cauliflower??
It seems like a lot of kids are picky eaters – how do you know when a family needs help?
Fussiness with food is completely normal. If a child suddenly stops eating their favorite fruit or decides to eat less than usual, it is frustrating for the parent but, it is important to consider their developmental stage. As all parents know, children are constantly going through phases -especially toddlers.
You may want to get advice from your pediatrician or registered dietitian if mealtimes are stressful or you’re always focused on what or how much your child eats, if your child is falling off of the growth chart, if you suspect nutrient insufficiencies, or if you are just unsure if your child has enough variety in their diet to meet their nutritional requirements.
This has been so helpful! Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about picky eaters?