What is picky eating?
Picky eating refers to selective eating and often leads to an imbalanced diet. Picky eating can defined as limited variety of foods being consumed due to the rejection of a significant amount of familiar and unfamiliar foods. Picky eaters commonly exhibit characteristics such as eating a limited amount of food, refusing food (especially fruits and vegetables), being unwilling to try new foods, accepting only a few types of food, choosing drinks over food, and having strong dietary preferences. This behaviour often raises concerns among parents, as it can lead to inadequate nutrition and hinder proper growth and development. The peak prevalence of picky eating is observed around the age 3 years, placing additional stress on parents and caregivers during mealtimes.
What are the causes of picky eating?
Picky eating can cause by several factors, such as
- Early feeding difficulties
- Pressure to eat exerted by parents and caregivers
- Late introduction of complementary feeding
Tips to manage picky eating among children
1. Be the role model for your child. Parents play an important role in establishing healthy eating habits in children, as children shape their eating behaviour by observing people around them. They often mirror their parents' habits due to the emotional bond they share, which includes developing an interest in the same foods consumed by their parents. Children demonstrate a higher likelihood of trying unfamiliar foods when their parents consume them simultaneously and display enthusiastic reactions. This effect was more powerful than when the parents simply encouraged the child to try the food orally.
2. Create a positive eating environment. Set up a comfortable eating area for your children by providing a child-friendly table, chair, as well as utensils that are specifically designed for children, to make eating more enjoyable. Avoid pressuring and forcing the child to eat to prevent negative associations with foods. Make mealtimes relaxed and free from distractions like electronic devices so that they can focus on the sensory experience of eating, such as the texture, taste and smell of food.
3. Establishing regular eating routine can help regulate their appetite. When meals and snacks are provided at regular intervals, it allows them to recognise and respond to their body's signals of hunger, making them more likely to try the foods served. Offering nutritious beverages at the end of the meal can prevent filling of their stomachs.
4. Engage your child in food preparation. Participating in food preparation allows picky eaters to have a hands-on sensory experience with food. They can touch, smell, and interact with different ingredients, which can make the moment pleasant and develop a positive connection with food. Hence, they may have a greater willingness to try the food.
5. Introduce new foods gradually. Offer a combination of their favourite foods alongside a small portion of new food. If the child rejects the new food, provide them with just one bite without forcing them. If the child continues to refuse after three attempts, it's important not to push or force them. Instead, wait a few days or weeks and then try reintroducing the new food. It is important to know that the preferences of a child can change over time, although it may take around 10 exposures before they accept the food.
- C. Ong, Phuah K.Y., E. Salazar, How C.H. (2014). Managing the ‘picky eater’ dilemma. Singapore Med J. 55(4).
- Caroline M. T. & Pauline M. E. (2020) Picky eating in children: causes and consequences. Proc Nutr Soc., 1-9.
- Thamara de O. Torres, D. R. Gomes, M. P. Mattos. (2021). Rev Paul Rediatr. 39, e2020089.