Picky eating and how to treat it?
Are you a parent and concerned about child eating? Are your children not eating adequately? Well your dear one may be suffering from picky eating.
Picky eating children are also known as picky eaters and fussy eaters and neophobic. Whatever you call it, it causes pain to a large extent to parents across the world.
Here we are going to discuss picky eating as it may help you to understand and handle the problem with ease.
- What is picky eating?
- How common is it?
- What are the factors leading to a picky eating habit?
- What are the consequences of picky eating?
- How to handle picky eating children?
Table of Contents
What is picky eating?
You may be frustrated by your child’s eating habits but just any faulty habit cannot be called picky eating. Here we will see what is picky eating?
A child, especially infants above 6 months and toddlers are picky eaters when your infant or toddler
- Shows dislike for food.
- Resist feeding.
- Do not want to try new food.
- When your infant or toddler eats only a particular food.
- When your infant or toddler eats only a particular form of food.
As you can see many of you parents can experience this condition at a stage in your child’s growing phase.
You may experience your child has developed strong no-no to feeding and more you try to feed more they resist.
To an extent ‘feeding times’ may feel like ‘war times’ between you and your child.
In the process you will fail miserably as forced feeding won’t help each and every time.
Additionally your child may resist to eat new food or new form of food and you may be concerned about the eating habit and how will the child get adjusted to food you usually eat at home.
In this entire process you will feel that it is OK to let them eat whatever they want and you will feel that eating something is better than nothing.
So this feeling leads to choosing wrong types of food may lead to nutritional deficiency.
How common is it?
You may have talked to other parents and you may have noticed this is the most common problem faced by the other parents too.
Studies show anywhere between 20-40 percent toddlers show this behaviour at some stage of life.
This condition is seen across all countries and races in children. It occurs with the same frequency in boys and girls.
Many of these children outgrow this habit and start accepting food that is consumed at home by other members.
Most commonly this habit subsides completely at or before age 10 years age.
What are factors leading to picky eating disorders?
It will be helpful for you to know the causes of this condition as it may help to identify the problem and target it.
It is largely considered a behavioral problem and causes for the same are yet not known but some common factors occur in those with picky eating habits.
Those factors are:
- Low birth weight.
- Wrong eating habits in parents.
- Improper complementary feeding.
- Readymade formulas.
- Preparing wrong food.
- Dessert as reward.
- Role of media.
Let us discuss these causes one by one to clarify them more:
Low birth weight
It is found that those children who had low birth weight have this problem more commonly. As they grow to infancy and toddler age they become picky eaters.
They resist accepting food. Children become choosy eating only some types of food. They may prefer high calorie and fat containing food over nutrient rich food.
This picky eating habit in those children may lead to failure to gain weight or gaining excessive weight and obesity related problems with nutritional deficiency of other vitamins and iron.
Wrong eating habits in parents
Children, especially toddlers, are best imitators. They imitate their parents in multiple ways. They also imitate their parents in food habits.
Children who have parents or mothers who have picky eating habits may develop picky eating and become fussy eaters.
They may like to eat foods which are high calories containing and less nutritious like their parents eat.
It is possible that they choose and demand readymade unhealthy foods like bakery products and pizza, burgers and carbonated drinks which usually contain refined fats and sugars leading to excessive obesity.
They refuse and resist eating healthy homemade food and fruits and vegetables.
Improper complementary feeding
Till 6 months of age children are to be exclusively breastfed. From 6 months onwards children need complementary feeding along with breast feeding.
Wrong complementary feeding practices lead children to picky eating and other infantile eating disorders.
The aim of complementary feeding is shifting children to homemade food slowly as they need. The complementary feeds provide nutrition to infants that is extra to breastfeeding. Usually from 6 months children need this nutrition.
Complementary feeding should be started as guided by pediatricians with home made, locally available and culturally acceptable ingredients.
Wrong feeding choices at the time of the complementary feeding may lead to wrong eating habits in future in children.
Nowadays it has become an increasing trend to give ready made formula feeding for infants and toddlers.
24 hours a day you are exposed to ads and media who convince you about how your homemade food is inferior and your child needs formula with supplements of many vitamins.
In the process parents may be sold wrong products that are harmful and make children more prone to eating disorders like picky eating disorders.
Many formulas are sold for complementary feeding please note these formulas do not have the flavor and smell of food you prepare at home. You use them your child will become a picky eater.
If you are using readymade formula do not use it more than once a day. Major part of baby food should be from homemade ingredients and from food items you eat at home.
Preparing wrong food
Children tend to eat more if they see food attractive and arranged nicely on a plate.
If you are using food which is fried and containing more fats and less nutrition very frequently your children will not accept other foods.
They will become picky eaters.
Additionally the food you prepare should have good taste and texture that attracts children.
Tv screens and mobile screens are biggest distractions for the children.
If you are using TV and mobile or other screens while eating, after some days your children will resist eating without them.
Dessert as reward
If you are using dessert food as a reward, It is not a good practice.
This practice makes children think how the dessert food is superior to normal food. They will picky eaters and they will start resisting eating normal food.
Role of media
Nowadays the majority of children have easy access to media and TV and mobile screens.
They may be using those screens for playing games or watching some cartoon series.
They may get exposed to ideas about food on this media and those may be unhealthy ideas.
This type of media may create an impression in the minds of children about how particular food is superior.
Children may try to imitate the eating habits of their favorite cartoon superhero or they may get exposed to advertising campaigns of unhealthy food.
Above are some factors that may influence toddlers in early stages of their lives and we can help them if you know those causes.
What are the consequences of picky eating?
As you are rightly concerned picky eating causes multiple complications in infants, toddlers and childrens.
Some of those common complications are as follows:
- Weight loss
- Stunted growth
- Nutritional deficiencies
Let’s discuss those consequences one by one for you in simple words:
As most of the other parents you may be concerned for proper growth of your child, picky eating may affect the growth.
Children with picky eating disorders may have weight loss or failure to gain weight.
Though no weight loss failure to gain weight over a period of time may be an alarming sign in these children with picky eating habits.
Stunted growth means short height for age. The height of children increases with their age. Stunted growth occurs when this growth of height is slow or does not occur. For stunted growth that is picky eating to affect height it must last for a long period of time.
Continued for a long time picky eating may cause slow growth or no growth in height leading to stunted growth.
Not only growth but also in some children obesity is possible with picky eating.
Picky eaters may eat energy dense and high calories containing food and they get those refined salts and sugars and fat in excess.
This may lead to obesity. Obesity is a type of malnutrition like less weight and stunted growth.
Picky eaters may lack dietary fibres in their diet. They may avoid healthy foods like fruits and green leafy vegetables.
They may eat bakery products and readymade foods and other same types of foods each day. This makes them prone to constipation.
Fear of constipation causes decreased feeding and multiple complications.
Children with picky eating disorder may lead to deficiency iron and other vitamins giving rise to decreased haemoglobin levels.
Decreased haemoglobin levels is anemia and symptoms are fatigue, decreased appetite and feeling of less energy to work.
Apart from anemia these children with picky eating also have deficiency of other important nutrients and vitamins.
They may lack water soluble vitamins like vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, thiamin in their diet causing deficiency of these vitamins.
They may lack zinc and calcium in their diet and also lack fat soluble vitamins like Vitamin A and Vitamin D. Lack of these important vitamins may lead to decreased vision and failure of bone growth.
How to handle picky eating children?
As to feed your curiosity we provide you detailed information of causes and consequences of picky eating. Now let us discuss how to handle picky eating disorders with ease.
We know though it is very easy to talk about treatment options and preach to you about it, you may feel it difficult to follow.
As every kid is unique and his/her unique personality we need to handle it uniquely as per their need.
Following points may help you in this regard:
- Seek medical advice
- Try out frequently
- Do not force feed
- Do not get frustrated
- No punishment
- No dessert in reward
- Feast days
- Make it a fun
- Become a role model
- Try to improve food
- Avoid readymade foods
- No distractions
- Child will outgrow
Let us explain these strategies one by one so that it becomes more clear for you to understand:
In children not eating or refusal or difficulty to feed is quite a significant complaint that cannot be ignored.
Loss of appetite and weight loss can be a symptom of major diseases like tuberculosis and cancer. So, before starting any measure correct diagnosis is needed.
For that it is essential for you to take our help and do not try to self diagnose. Your pediatrician may diagnose the problem with the history you give about your child or may need some tests depending on the history you give and clinical physical examination.
So, seeking medical advice from a pediatrician is the first step to consider.
Once diagnosed as a picky eater following steps may help for you.
Try out frequently
Picky is rightly named as neophobia, that is these children do not try new food they resist that.
Picky eaters are quite anxious of new food and they try to continue previously continued food by resisting the newer one.
To allay this anxiety you should expose children by trying out frequently without getting angry or frustrated.
Do not force feed
Sometimes children do not feel hungry and if you try it when they are not hungry the will refuse to eat.
Do not try to force feed when they are not hungry.
Do not get frustrated
Once children become picky eaters, it may become increasingly difficult to feed them. They resist you each time you try to feed them.
Eating times may feel like war time due to this rebellion attitude of your children.
Please note that your children respond to you properly but need some patience.
You should not punish your child for not eating food. Sometimes they just do not want to eat and you should understand that.
Punishing them increases panic in their mind and they increasingly feel anxious while eating. It becomes difficult to feed them.
No dessert as reward
Some parents use dessert and sweet food as a reward. This makes children think that dessert food is better than their regular food.
Moreover children want that love and reward from their parents. They get a feeling of satisfaction with that reward they try to get frequently from you.
They may resist when you feed them and they want particular food they want. So, do not use dessert food as a reward.
Decide any one or 2 days a week as feast days. Give children the food they like on that day without restriction. More you understand your children, the more they will reciprocate with you.
Make it fun
If feeding your children has become difficult and frustrating and they have become increasingly rebellious, alter the approach to handle the situation.
Make it fun to have food by changing the environment of the house. You should be as playful as possible while feeding the children.
Become a role model
As we discussed earlier children are best imitators. Imitation is the way of their learning procedure. They imitate you and they learn it.
You should first yourself learn to eat a variety of home made food in front of them so that they can learn from you.
Every parent is naturally a role model for the toddlers and they do take inspiration from you.
Try to improve food
You want your children to eat a variety of healthy food? Well they may not like all the stuff called healthy food.
Children prefer food that looks attractive in color and that is neatly arranged on a plate. The food should attract them to itself with good taste and smell too.
Nowadays even if you decide to cook broccoli, many demonstrations are easily available on how to cook it. Just try different methods and observe what your toddler likes.
Avoid readymade food
Picky eaters are easy choosers of high energy and lipids containing food which may lack necessary nutrients.
Readymade foods contain refined sugars and excess of unhealthy lipids which you certainly won’t like for your children.
Also avoid bakery products which may contain coloring agents and preservatives in them. Try to make healthy homemade alternatives in place of them.
You and your baby should not sit in front of a TV screen or mobiles while eating. These screens are the biggest distractions for the children while eating.
Switch off the mobiles and TV screen while feeding the children.
Child guidance clinic
Some children do need advice from psychiatrist as they may have underlying obstructive compulsive disorder.
Such children will need to meet to psychiatrist running child guidance clinic. They will examine your children and will given advice on behavior therapy if needed.
Sometimes multiple sessions of visit are needed to child guidance clinic.
Child will outgrow
Please not most of the children and more importantly parents go through this stage and children do outgrow it sooner or later. Just consistent effort and patience is needed.
Almost all children outgrow this habit till age 10 years some may continue till adulthood and some may develop eating disorders like anorexia and binge eating.
One or more of the above steps may be helpful for you and your dear baby.
Your pediatrician may guide you in this regard with a proper plan of management or you may meet us in person.
Read about soil eating habits.