Ever wondered WHY you child is so picky with food? Probably every day – right? There can be a variety of factors and reasons that may evolve over time. Of course the reasons why children may reject foods can be many and varied and will differ with each child. But there are very real and legitimate reasons that children become so fussy with food. It is not just to annoy and frustrate parents or to be obstinate. Although we have all felt that must be so at times! There is value in giving it some careful thought and try to understand the CAUSES of your child’s fussiness. Is it due to innate issues, due to particular habits being created around food initially or is there some other underlying condition? Understanding those reasons and the sources of a child’s picky eating habits will go a long way in helping you more easily work around and deal with the problem and to help your child to eat more healthily and to broaden their tastes. Innate survival tactics, different developmental and growth rates, as well as medical and physiological factors such as illness, nutrient deficiencies, and poor muscle tone are just some of the reasons that your child may become a picky eater. Here are 5 main reasons that kids become picky eaters or refuse to eat. Your child may have any one of these issues or even several at the same time.
- Medical or Physiological. Medical problems may seem obvious but are often overlooked or underestimated as a reason for picky eating or food refusal. Young children are not able to verbalize how they are felling or relate it to food so it is worth having your child checked by your doctor or health professional. Nutritional deficiency due to illness or a history of poor eating will in itself contribute to further poor eating behaviour. See Chapter 1, 4, 6 & 7 of “Feeding Picky Kids” or Why? Physiological Influences on Eating Behaviour blog post for more.
- Developmental. Your child’s normal growth and activity levels will have an impact on their appetite and food requirements. For instance as a baby your child was fed frequently and grew rapidly with most tripling their birth weight by their first birthday. Toddlers and young children grow at a much slower rate so their food requirements may be less than expected. Also, appetite will be affected by growth cycles and variations in activity. Babies and toddlers learn about their world via their mouth and at the same time innately learn what food is and what is not and what is safe and what is not. The ability to chew and swallow is also developing. If your child is older, consider how well they are able to chew and swallow food. If this has not developed appropriately they may have a fear of gagging and will only eat foods that they know they can manage. See Chapter 1 of “Feeding Picky Kids” or Influence of Developmental and Growth Rates on Eating Behaviour blog post for more.
- Sensory. Your child may have a heightened sensitivity to the texture of foods and won’t eat anything where they dislike the sensation of the food in their mouth or on their hands – e.g. sloppy, crunchy, crispy, cold, hot, chewy. Aversions and fear can develop if they have had some type of pain or trauma associated with the mouth or swallowing (medical treatment, tube feeding, severe tonsillitis) or an episode of choking for instance. Lowered sensitivity can also become a problem where they tend to overfill the mouth, have difficulty manipulating it in the mouth and then gag, spit it out or vomit. See Chapter 1, 3, 4 & 6 of “Feeding Picky Kids” for more.
- Routine. Young children thrive on routine, familiarity and predictability so some structure and routine around mealtimes is important for all kids but especially picky eaters. Keep mealtimes and snack times at roughly the same time every day, roughly 2 ½ to 3 hours apart. This ensures some appetite hopefully for nutritious food by the time mealtime or snack time comes around. Allowing a child to eat anything at any time just so they eat something may actually compound the issue and hide some other underlying eating issue. See Chapter 3 of “Feeding Picky Kids” or Timing Routine and Small Tummies blog post for more.
- Behaviour. Kids of all ages and stages of development will test boundaries and especially at mealtime but in fact, only a small percentage of kids are picky based on behaviour alone. Behavioural issues can be a part of the picky eater puzzle particularly if there has been a history of problematic eating in the past. For the most part though, the behaviour has likely developed secondarily to the original issue. See Chapter 2 of “Feeding Picky Kids” for more.