Picky eating can be frustrating for parents, but most children will attempt to eat only what they enjoy, so picky eating is therefore not abnormal in their own minds. In fact, many children do not recognise themselves as picky eaters and instead operate under the assumption that they should only eat what – and when – they like.
Unfortunately, picky eating can lead to a variety of health ailments if children do not receive necessary vitamins and minerals, so extended picky eating should not be ignored. Instead, parents of picky eaters must identify the cause of picky eating, attempt to cope with picky eaters, and seek help when necessary.
Causes of Picky Eating in Children
To date, there are no medically recognised causes for picky eaters, however some studies have suggested that it usually peaks around pre-school age and then declines until about age 10. After age 10, children’s food habits will remain fairly steady so whatever kids like at that age they will probably continue to like and whatever they shy away from at that age they will probably continue to shy away from. Observing what a child will and will not eat may shed some light on possible underlying causes of this behaviour. Parents should investigate:
- Food groups which are rejected (a possible indication of a food allergy).
- The colours of foods rejected and accepted (a possible indication of personal preference).
- The texture of foods rejected and accepted (again, a possible indication of personal preference).
- Pains which follow eating (a possible indication of gastroesophageal reflux or an underlying digestive track disorder).
- Skin, tongue or mouth conditions which follow eating (a possible indication of a food allergy).
- Pain which accompanies eating (a possible indication of tooth or mouth sensitivity/disease).
Coping with Picky Eaters
Food wars often develop between parents and picky eaters, but parents don’t always need to play fair. Coping with picky eaters may require sneaky tactics. For example, parents can “hide” nutritional food in foods that a child will eat, such as fresh tomato sauce or hidden mushroom slices under the cheese of a homemade pizza. Adding new foods as a side dish can also result in children taking adventurous bites and setting out new snacks when children are “starving” often leads to children tasting new foods.
Turning food tasting into a game with the winner helping to plan a night’s menu also provokes many children into venturing further than their stand-by food favourites. Regardless of how adventurous a child is or is not with his/her food, all children should take a multivitamin everyday to ensure that they receive recommended intakes of all vitamins and minerals.
Seeking Help for Picky Eating
When picky eating continues for many months and interferes with family life there is no shame in seeking help. In fact, a GP’s opinion of a child’s eating should be sought if the child fails to gain weight, fails to grow or actually loses weight. An expert opinion should also be sought if a child has difficulty with chewing or swallowing, drools excessively or gags while eating, experiences pain after eating or regularly vomits after a meal. Children who express fear regarding food and/or refuse to eat at all should also be taken for a consultation.
Picky eating can be frustrating for parents, but it is a common phase that children pass through while they develop. Sometimes, however, there are serious physical or mental reasons behind picky eating so parents should not hesitate to seek help if they become suspicious of their child’s picky eating.