As parents, it’s common to have to coax your children to practice good habits - whether that means putting their toys away, doing their homework, washing their hands before meals, or brushing their teeth. When it comes to mealtime, many parents struggle to get their kids to polish off their plates. According to WebMD, between 20-50% of children are described as picky eaters by their parents. During the early years of your children’s lives, they experience a massive spurt in physical, emotional, and mental development that needs to be fueled by adequate caloric and nutritional intake. How do you know when it’s time to worry about your fussy little one? Read on for the 101 on picky eaters.
Is my child really a picky eater?
Not all children are selective when it comes to food and drink. In fact, many children have easy-to-please palates and will eat just about anything you put in front of them. How then, would you know if your child is a picky eater? Here are some signposts to look out for:
- Your child is very specific about what they will eat and only enjoy a few kinds of food. This means that they will often eat the same thing over and over again
- Your child throws tantrums at the table to get themselves out of finishing their meal or eating a particular food
- They reject the food that’s given to them. Often this means pushing aside fish, meats, and fibrous green vegetables like broccoli, spinach, and Brussels sprouts
- Unhealthy foods like cakes, candy, fried food, and pizza are favoured over home-cooked meals and snacks
- Your child may eat incredibly slow and/or pick, throw, or play with their food
What are the causes of picky eating?
There’s no one-size-fits-all reason for children who are picky eaters. For starters, children’s palates differ from adults as they are less developed. This means that children may be less tolerant of extreme tastes like bitterness and sourness. Research has shown that children may naturally select foods that are more energy-dense as their physiology is less energy efficient than adults. A recent study conducted by the University of Illinois also determined that picky eating can be genetic. Other reasons for picky eating include physical or medical reasons for difficulty in eating and/or digesting as well as extreme sensitivity to the taste, texture, or colour of food.
Furthermore, children tend to pick up on social cues given off by their well-intending parents. These may distort their perception of certain food or mealtime. These subtle cues can include:
- Parents using sweets or other favourite foods as a reward
- Children being punished if they don’t eat as/when instructed
- Children copying their parents’ preferences for food
- Parents forcing their children to finish their food (this includes force-feeding)
Are there risks involved for children who are picky eaters?
If your child has trouble overcoming their picky eating behaviour, the long-term deficiency of calories and nutrients can have negative effects on his/her body and mind. Some of the risks include:
- Slowed physical development | Your child can fall behind on their physical growth due to a lack of nutrients and calories. Signs include lethargy, pallor, slow or stagnating height and weight measurements and tooth eruption.
- Slowed mental development | Research found that picky eating children had lower scores on a Mental Development Index than their healthy eating peers. If your child has difficulty concentrating or is performing poorly at school, this could be a sign.
What parents can do
Although it can be a frustrating and tiring process to deal with your picky eating children, rest assured that there are a multitude of ways that you can help your children overcome their food fussiness. Using the right social cues at the dinner table, having a routine, reminding yourself to be patient, engaging your children when it comes to shopping and cooking, and making food fun are ways you can put your children back on track when it comes to food.
Always keep track of your child’s height and weight as slow or stagnating growth can mean your child is not getting enough vitamins and nutrients. Play it safe as many parents do and give your child a boost by providing them with vitamin and nutrient supplements. Ask your doctor about complete and balanced nutritional supplements to complement your child’s diet.
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