Picky eaters in young children is a very common complaint from parents. These are children who only want to eat the same foods over and over, refuse to try any new foods and have a very limited variety of foods they may choose to eat. Sometimes parents may say their child is picky, but on further questioning, the child does have a variety of foods in all food groups, but may just not be willing to try many new foods. Or perhaps, it is a child who does eat well over a few day period, but may have some meals that are very limited in amount. These types of complaints may really be more part of the child’s normal development.
Have you ever thought that there maybe a very good reason your child or toddler is a picky eater? In some ways, it is part of normal development and perhaps has some protective benefits. Picky eating may have a protective mechanism that has its roots in our ancestors 10,000 years ago. A preference for bland foods and a fear of unfamiliar foods when children were out foraging for foods may have helped them avoid choosing foods that were potentially toxic.
Research supports that idea that picky eating is a developmental process for toddlers. After a year or so of age, children are gaining their independence and they are often less willing to try new things, new foods included. This is a normal process and children after a year of age are not growing as rapidly. They are focusing much of their attention after a year of age on learning new skills like walking and talking, so sitting and eating may not be as much of a priority for them. The more a parent may try to nag or force their child to eat, the less that child may eat, so the reaction of the parents to their eating may actually worsen the problem.
Nonetheless, with the types of foods that are now considered “kid-friendly” that are high in sugar and fat, kids may tend to learn to gravitate to these types of less nutritious choices. After all, they do taste good and the fruits and vegetables may then be less of a preference in their diet. So we may aggravate this normal process by offering high-fat, high-sugar foods and falling into the trap of giving “kid foods” like mac and cheese, hot dogs, fries, crackers and other processed foods.