Picky Eaters: Common Causes and How to Support Them

Picky eating is a common behaviour in early childhood, with  the peak prevalence occurring at about age 3 years. 

Although there may be many reasons why a child may not want to eat a certain food or eat at all at certain times there are some common reasons for resisting food, and some strategies to help get through them.

Let’s take a look at a few common reasons children avoid eating, and things you can do to help.

To assert independence and be in control

Starting around 18 months, toddlers begin to understand that they’re separate individuals from others and have their own thoughts and feelings. They’re eager to have control and be independent, which often results in defiance. Resisting or refusing certain foods and demanding other foods is one way they might do this. While you can’t give into a demand to eat “only sticky rice”  you can give your child some choices to allow them to feel a sense of control and independence.

Engage your child in preparing the meal. Any involvement such as shopping for the food together, helping to wash the vegetables, or setting  the table will make your child feel like they are a part of the process and have some control over mealtimes.

Make it a policy to serve one meal for everyone but give your child  the option to decide what and how much of each item they want  to have.

May be sceptical of new things

Children take comfort from the known and familiar so when new foods are introduced it can be intimidating. Even if your child says no  to new foods, you should keep offering them. It  might take many  attempts, often up to  10 – 15,  before they are  willing to give it a taste. Allow your child to start off by smelling or licking the food without pressure to eat it. When your child refuses to try a food, you can model eating it with delight… “oh what yummy broccoli that is!” Also try to serve new foods alongside familiar food, which may  make the plate look a little safer!

Simply just not hungry at mealtime

Be aware of how much snacking your child does and how much milk they are drinking between meals. If a child has filled up on snacks or milk, they will not be as interested in trying a new food, or eating at all,  simply because they just aren’t that  hungry.

Set and stick with a predictable and consistent snack and mealtime routine, and limit your  child’s daily milk intake to the daily recommended amount according to their age.

Picked up the pickiness from others

Toddlers learn by observing the world around them, so if they see others are being picky at the table they will follow this.

One of the best things you can do to encourage healthy eating is to model good eating behaviours at home.  Serving and eating a wide variety of wholesome foods and eating together as a family as often as possible will set the tone for the positive choices you want your child to make.

To conclude, while you undoubtedly will  hear “I don’t want to eat that!” from time to time, there are strategies you can take to encourage your child to eat a variety of foods.  Now is the time to establish healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime!

 Bon appetit!