Why Is My Child A Picky Eater? Unpacking the Reasons Behind Picky Eating
Thu, April 22, 2021

Why Is My Child A Picky Eater? Unpacking the Reasons Behind Picky Eating


Some children are happy to munch on hummus, carrots, and raw peppers, while others choose to adhere to a carb-based “white” diet of pasta, rice, and bread, stated Sarah DiGuilio of Better NBC, a provider of health and life tips. How come there are some children who are picky with food? 

A 2015 review of dozens of studies dating back to the 1990s that analyzed kid’s eating patterns found that fussy, picky, or choosy eating habits were connected to and affected by certain factors, according to Caroline M. Taylor and colleagues of ScienceDirect, a scientific and medical journal portal. 

These factors include personality traits, parental control at mealtime, social influences, and maternal eating patterns. Or it could be because your child is just acting like a kid. Lee Gibson, PhD, a reader in biopsychology and director of the Clinical and Health Psychology Research Center at the University of Roehampton, noted that fussy or picky eating is normal in young children.

Perception of Picky Eating Among Children In Singapore and Its Impact On Caregivers (2012)

Daniel YT Goh and Anna Jacob of biomedical and life sciences journal PMC interviewed 407 parents or grandparents who are the primary caregivers of kids aged one to 10 years in Singapore using a structured 36-question survey. 25.1% and 24.1% of the respondents said that the child was always or sometimes a picky eater, respectively. 27.5% of Chinese respondents felt that the child was more of a picky eater than their Malay (20.6%) or Indian (20.8%) respondents. 29.9% and 25% of kids aged three to five and six to 10 were more commonly reported as picky eaters, respectively compared to those in the one to two age group (20.3%).

Children of respondents who were professionals (34.2%) were more likely to be seen as picky eaters than respondents from other occupations (16.3% to 30%). Children with a family history of picky eating (36.5%) were more likely to be perceived as picky eaters than those from families without a history of picky eating (19.5%). The most common behaviors of a picky eater among respondents who answered “always” were eating slowly or holding food in the mouth (14.3%), eating sweets and fatty foods instead of healthy alternatives (13.3%), not liking to try new foods (12%), accepting only a few types of food (12%), and eating snacks instead of meals (11.1%).



The prevalence of feeding difficulties occurring “always” were due to the kids' not liking the texture of certain foods (6.6%), eating very little food (9.6%), and fear of certain foods due to a previous bad experience (4.4%). Goh and Jacob also found that 45.5% of respondents stated that they were “very much concerned” that the child was a picky eater while 37.1% were “slightly concerned.” The most common consequences of picky eating were physical (83.3%) and mental development (54.5%).

89.2% of respondents felt responsible for ensuring that their child was eating the right types of food, making sure that they did not have too many fatty foods, sweets, and junk foods (88.7%), and encouraging them to eat with the family (89.9%). 94.6% of respondents ensured that the child had enough food at every meal while 86.2% pressured them to always eat all the food on the plate.

To ensure that the child received sufficient nutrition, 62.7% of respondents made sure that meals included vegetables, fruits, and meat.  46.4% watched what their child eat, 41.8% planned or supervised their child’s meal, 40% gave them milk from a bottle. The participants used various coping strategies “all the time” and “sometimes” such as modifying the food’s texture to make it easy to eat (65.6%), allowing TV time at mealtimes (62.4%), and presenting food in an age-appropriate manner (using colored cups or bottles, 52.8%).

The researchers concluded that caregivers of children who are picky eaters or exhibited feeding difficulty behaviors were concerned about the impacts of such behaviors on their kids’ physical and mental development. Clinicians can guide parents by providing the best approaches to achieving good nutrition for picky eaters.



Why Is My Child A Picky Eater?

Dina Rose, Ph.D., a sociologist and author of “It’s Not About the Broccoli,” noted that picky eating not about the green beans, the peas, or even dessert that is upsetting your child. Most of the time, it’s a control struggle. There are times when your child will react to a food’s appearance or to a specific taste. Rose added, “But even in these instances, the refusal to try that food is an expression of fear or other feelings.” 

When your child is a toddler, learning how to move and control their body and its functions becomes their primary job. Choosing which food to put on their plate and choosing whether to swallow it is another area they can control.

However, parents want to control their child’s eating behaviors such as deciding when and often they will eat— which often have limits, Rose pointed out. Parents feel pressured to feed their kids adequately and nutritiously and when kids sense it, the power dynamic shifts.

Your Good Intentions Do Not Actually Mean Well

Power struggles send a wrong message to kids. For example, food becomes a negative experience when you force your child to eat a vegetable that they refuse to eat, Rose stated. Have you ever told your child: “Two more bites and you can have dessert?”

Rose said, “That makes the dessert valuable and the vegetable not valuable.” Your child will think of the vegetable as a chore and the dessert as a reward for eating it. They may learn that they need to eat the vegetable for their health, but this approach does not teach your child to prefer it.

Overreacting or applying strict dietary regimes for your child to follow to discourage picky eater tends to be counterproductive. Gibson explained that parental anxiety does not help in addressing picky eating behaviors. She recommended, “It’s better to learn by example, always be positive when offering food and show children how much you like a food when you’re asking them to eat it.”

Kids Are Still Developing Their Own Taste Preferences

Maybe your child does not want to eat food if they are cranky, they are not hungry, or they want to eat something else for dinner. But they tend to use the “I don’t like it” card to get away from eating a particular food.

Do note that children are still developing their own taste preferences until they are about five. Rose stated that your child’s thoughts and evaluations of the food they consume become more fluid and stabilized. “But ‘I don’t like it’ gets reinforced in their own minds and the parents’ minds,” she said.

Perhaps it’s time to involve your child in the kitchen, providing them an opportunity to choose which meal they would like to eat for the day. There’s no need to ban junk food, but it is important to teach your child to consume them sparingly. There are other ways to help address picky eating, but the most important tip is to make mealtimes a positive and fulfilling experience for your child