Picky eating behavior is common among children ages 2 to 5. While many grow out of it, others do not and carry their selective eating habits into adulthood. But why is this? In this blog post, we discuss the topic in detail and share ways parents can manage picky eating.
Picky eating is defined as refusing foods often and eating the same foods over and over. Although picky eating is only a phase in some children, it can be a sign of a more serious issue in others. Picky eating often begins around the time when toddlers begin to feed themselves and are able to choose what and how much to eat. It is also during this time that children begin to learn many new skills including walking, running and talking. These changes can cause some children to feel overwhelmed or anxious. As a result, some seek consistency in their lives, including eating the same types of foods. This allows them to feel safe and secure during a period of rapid change. Recent research has discovered a link between picky eating and certain disorders among children, including depression and anxiety. If not managed properly, these issues can very well transition over into adulthood.
For other children, picky eating can develop from feeling overwhelmed by an influx of sensory information (i.e., touch, smell and taste). Some children with a heightened sense of smell (hypersensitivity) makes them taste flavors more intensely than other people. This may cause them to feel higher levels of disgust — even to the point of gagging — when eating foods they do not like. If left untreated, this can also continue into adulthood and worsen with age. In fact, a recent study on adult picky eaters from Duke University found that the majority of picky eaters surveyed reported that their selective eating habits started when they were children.
Because picky eating is often associated with other issues, experts recommend parents seek professional help if they feel their child’s picky eating habits are persistent. If it is discovered that a child’s picky eating habits are not a phase, but rather are linked to other issues, it is best to treat the underlying issue that is causing the picky eating.
Here are a few ways to deal with your child’s picky eating behavior while encouraging them to try new foods.
Include your children in your meal prep. Having your child help you in the kitchen is a good way to get them to get out of their comfort zone and try new foods. Kids feel included in the decision making process and are less likely to reject foods that they helped make.
Offer choices. Instead of serving your child a food, give them at least two options to choose from. For example, instead of serving broccoli, ask your child, “Which would you like for dinner, broccoli or cauliflower?” For the children who refuse either choice presented to them, have them play with the food. Even touching, smelling and tolerating having the food sitting in front of them is a big step.
Offer new foods first. Your child is most hungry at the start of the meal, so they are more likely to try a new food at the beginning of a meal instead of later on when they are getting close to being full. It’s also a good idea to offer only one new food at a time.
Be a good role model. Simply put, you can’t expect your child to eat broccoli, spinach or other foods if they don’t see you eating them yourself.
It’s important to remember that every child is different and that not every method will work the same, or at all, on every child. For more tips on how to manage your child’s picky eating habits, please call Innovative Speech Language Pathology at (310) 659-9511.