Don’t let the picky eating battle win, use these best practices early and often
We all know a picky eater, whether a child or adult. There are many reasons as to why, and one recent study in Pediatrics explores the picky eating battle beginning at a young age.
Picky eating is defined as eating a small, limited amount of foods, rejecting certain novel foods and having strong food preferences. While picky eating is common in children, and usually prevalent by the age of four, it is helpful to address these habits early on so as to not translate them into adulthood.
So, what was the biggest picky eating culprit? Over 300 mother/child dyads from a Head Start Program in Michigan were studied over the course of five years, beginning at the age of 3 or 4. The goal was to examine three different picky-eating association trajectories: maternal restriction, pressure to eat, and demandingness. Researchers identified that demanding a child to eat and restricting foods led to the pickiest eaters.
If you are sighing internally, take a deep breath. As parents, we always want the best for our child and sometimes we are quick to respond or react in the food category. Thankfully, many of the “kid” foods available today are enriched with many additional nutrients, alleviating many parents’ concerns about deficiencies at a young age, but ultimately we need to strive for balance of a variety of whole foods as the end goal.
Intervening early on is key, but how best to intervene is always a question. Seeing how we have thousands of memories growing up that include food, it is best to create a positive, healthy food environment as early as possible. Modifying picky eating may need to start as early as preschool to create a well-rounded palate. Often that is easier said than done.
Here are a few tips to realistically prevent, or modify, picky eating:
● Expose young children to new foods often
● Role model by enjoying the food you also want your child to enjoy
● Have you child be involved in the decision making process of which foods to try
● Grow your own food with your child to encourage a hands-on approach
● Let your child help prepare the food with you in the kitchen
● Make family mealtime a regular, fun time each day
● Avoid being a short order cook
It is all about setting good habits now to set up our children for the future! Thankfully, there are many fantastic children-focused nutritionists and resources out there that can help if this is something your family is experiencing.
Published October 2020