Among young picky eaters toddlers seem to be some of the fussiest. Those between ages two to four usually come into a phase where they start to be more finicky about what they eat. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, this may be considered “developmentally normal” as it can be seen as your child’s defensive impulse that pushes them to be wary of new food.
While this is a normal part of growing up, it can be a bit frustrating as a parent to have to deal with a fussy child at the dining table. Remember though, that your reaction can either make or break your child’s relationship with food. The best way to go about dealing with a picky eater is understanding where they’re coming from.
That’s why in this article, we’ll discuss the following:
- Why are some children picky with their food?
- Things you shouldn’t do when your child is a picky eater
- How to deal with picky eaters
- When is it time to consult an expert about your child’s picky eating habits?
- Why it is important to make mealtimes open and relaxing
Why are some children picky with their food?
A lot of children are picky eaters, and if your child is one, it’s important to know that when they push their plate away, they don’t do it because they’re automatically hard-headed. Aside from the defensive impulse we earlier mentioned, there can be many underlying reasons why your child enjoys a dish one day and hates it the next. As a parent, you must pinpoint the reasons for their behavior, instead of forcing your child to finish what’s on their plate. Learning about the psychology of picky eaters may make mealtimes easier and happier for you and your child.
What is the scent and the texture of the food? According to the Child Mind Institute, some children may have issues with how a dish smells and feels in their mouth. Remember that what may be palatable for you may not be for a child.
Is your child mimicking your eating habits? Think back: was there a time when your child saw you say that a certain kind of food didn’t taste good? They may have gotten their sudden change in preferences from you.
Did your child have a bad experience regarding a certain type of food? Children are fast learners. If they accidentally tasted something that wasn’t good for them, chances are they’ll avoid it the next time.
Is your child not feeling well? If your child suddenly stops being a hearty eater, then you may want to check if there are other things that are bothering them. Teething can be a barrier to enjoying a meal. Feeling under the weather can be another.
Is your child just not hungry? According to WebMD, your child’s growth slows down at age two, which may explain why they’re starting to say “no” to finishing their meals. As long as your kid is hitting their weight and height milestones, trust them to know when they’re feeling full.
Things you shouldn’t do when your child is a picky eater
It can be frustrating to handle a picky eater, especially if your child’s fussiness becomes a regular occurrence. There are, however, things that you shouldn’t do when your child refuses to eat what on their plate:
Never try to force feed your child. WebMD says that forcing your child to eat only gives them a negative impression of mealtimes, which may make them fussier and anxious. It follows that you should also never threaten your kid with punishment or make them feel guilty for not finishing what’s on their plate.
Never bribe your child. The U.S. National Library of Medicine discourages bribing your child to eat because this will only reinforce negative behaviors towards food and mealtimes, and can cause more problems in the long run.
How to deal with picky eaters
It can be so easy to succumb to anger, but the negativity will only make matters worse. It can cause your child to become fussier, and it will also leave you dreading every meal time.
The key is to know the reason why your child is saying no to a meal, and go from there. Depending on this, you can try one of several options.
Make meals more kid-friendly. If some tastes and textures don’t agree with your child, try another approach. Cut, mash, boil, bake, and incorporate food that your little one initially turned away from into a mix of something that they can easily chew and swallow. Don’t be afraid to season food either, as long as it’s in moderation and not too harsh for their young tastebuds.
Make veggies and other healthy dishes fun.Toddlers are more predisposed to eating sweets as they are wired to crave for higher-calorie foods to compensate for their fast growth. You will need to strategize how to present healthy food such as broccoli, dried shiitake mushrooms, celery, and others that don’t really have a kid-friendly taste in a manner that’s enticing and fun to eat. Similar to the previous tip, try being creative with your presentation–you can make a broccoli not look like broccoli by pureeing it into soup. If you have time, you can also explore creating bento-like meals that your child will look forward to every day.
Have a proper eating schedule. It’s important to have a regular eating schedule for your child–snack time included. This way, their body will get used to eating at certain hours and will be able to work up an appetite just before meals. This lessens the possibility of them being fussy.
Make snack time healthy. Snack time can be for biscuits and chocolate milk, but you can also offer healthy alternatives that are fun and tasty. Mushroom for kids is a good idea as MomJunction notes, they can boost your child’s growth and immune system. Mushroom chips or mushroom crisps are a good option, for as long as they are very thin and crushed into smaller pieces that don’t have sharp edges. You can also chop them and fold them into mashed potatoes for additional flavor.
Some of the best snacks for picky eaters include popcorn, veggie crisps, mushroom chips, fruit slices, trail mixes, fruit and veggie smoothies, pudding, and anything that captures the tastes and textures that your child loves–in healthy moderation, of course.
Allow your child to make decisions. This doesn’t mean that you’ll just be indulging your child every time they say “no” to a dish. It's widely recommended that instead of forcing the issue, explain to your child why eating what’s on their plate is a good idea. Tell them how it will benefit them in real life, such as how eating veggies will make them faster runners when playing with their friends, or how it can help them grow strong like the sports figures that they idolize. Allow them to decide to eat the meal on their own based on knowing what good it will do to them.
Sometimes, you have to allow them to say "no." As previously mentioned, there will be times that they’re not just hungry, and as long as they get their proper dietary values within the day, know that it’s okay. You can instead stick to your meal schedule (try not to indulge them in extra snacks during the day because they’re suddenly hungry), and if needed, add a bit more food to their next meal to satisfy the appetite they built up.
When is it time to consult an expert about your child’s picky eating habits?
While being fussy over food is generally normal, there are times when there’s more to it than just a child being a picky eater. Some kids have sensory issues, which may affect their decision about eating food with certain textures. Some, according to the Child Mind Institute, may have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which may lead them to eat food with specific shapes, or colors, or one from a specific brand in fear of something bad happening when they deviate from their usual choices.
There is also something called Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). Very Well Mind explains that ARFID symptoms appear as early as age one, and a child will be very disinterested in food and will only eat from a very narrow range. ARFID can be very extreme to the point that a child won’t be able to meet their nutritional needs, which may lead to weight loss and stunted growth. Kids Health notes that children with ARFID are more likely to have OCD, too, but
If your child is displaying extreme pickiness in food, it’s important to consult with your pediatrician right away to assess the situation and to catch any issues early.
Why it is important to make mealtimes open and relaxing
Being picky about food is generally normal in growing children. As your child slowly learns about different tastes and textures, as well as how to manage themselves and interact with others during meals, you as a parent have an important role in building a safe and relaxing environment where your child can fearlessly explore food, knowing that they will not be punished or threatened whenever they exercise their choices. As mentioned, this doesn’t mean that you’ll always allow your kid to have their own way. In fact, meal times can be a learning experience for the both of you! Build happy memories around the dinner table so that your kid can grow up with a healthy mindset towards food.
Thinking about introducing healthy snacks to your child? Try out our mushroom crisps. Best served with a side of good news, only from The Daily Good. You can chop them up into smaller bite-sized pieces if your little one prefers!