what are picky eaters?
A picky eater, also known as a fussy eater or selective eater, is a term used to describe someone, typically a child, who has a limited or particular preference for certain foods and is hesitant or resistant to trying new foods. Picky eaters often have strong food aversions and may exhibit reluctance or refusal to eat certain textures, flavors, or food groups. They might prefer a narrow range of familiar foods and may be sensitive to changes in their meals.
Picky eating is relatively common among young children, but it can also be present in adults. It is essential to distinguish between typical picky eating behaviors, which are often a normal part of a child’s development, and more severe feeding disorders, which may require professional intervention.
10 Tips to Follow for Picky Eaters
Helping picky eaters expand their food choices can be a gradual process that requires patience and understanding. Here are ten tips to address picky eating habits and promote a more varied and balanced diet:
- Create a Positive Environment: Make mealtimes a pleasant experience by fostering a relaxed and positive atmosphere. Avoid pressuring or bribing the picky eater to eat specific foods, as this can create negative associations with mealtime.
- Set a Good Example: Be a role model by eating a diverse range of foods yourself. Children often mimic the eating habits of their caregivers, so showcasing a variety of foods can encourage them to try new things.
- Involve Them in Meal Planning: Include the picky eater in meal planning and grocery shopping. Let them choose fruits, vegetables, or other healthy foods they might be willing to try. Involvement can increase their curiosity and willingness to try new foods.
- Start with Familiar Foods: Introduce new foods alongside familiar ones to reduce resistance. For example, if they enjoy chicken nuggets, offer a new vegetable or sauce alongside them.
- Offer Small Portions: Present new foods in small portions to reduce the feeling of overwhelm. Allow the picky eater to explore the new item without the pressure of finishing a large serving.
- Be Patient and Persistent: It can take several exposures to a new food before a picky eater will try it. Keep offering a variety of foods and stay patient throughout the process.
- Make Food Fun: Present foods in creative ways to make them more appealing. Use cookie cutters to shape fruits or veggies, or create funny faces on the plate with different ingredients.
- Respect Their Preferences: While encouraging trying new foods, respect the picky eater’s preferences. It’s okay if they don’t like everything you offer. Gradually expand their preferences instead of forcing them to eat specific foods.
- Avoid Using Food as a Reward or Punishment: Using food as a reward for eating well or punishment for not finishing meals can reinforce negative eating habits. Encourage healthy eating as part of an overall balanced lifestyle.
- Offer Healthy Snacks: Ensure that the available snacks are nutritious options. Having healthy snack choices readily available can prevent the picky eater from resorting to only familiar, less nutritious snacks.
When can we reach a Doctor for Picky Eaters?
If you have concerns about your child’s picky eating habits and their impact on their overall health and well-being, it’s a good idea to reach out to a healthcare professional. Generally, you can consult with a doctor, pediatrician, or registered dietitian for guidance and support regarding picky eating.
Here are some situations when it might be appropriate to consult a healthcare professional:
- Extreme Selectivity: If your child’s picky eating is exceptionally restrictive, and they are only eating a very limited range of foods, it could affect their nutrient intake and growth.
- Weight Loss or Poor Growth: If your child is experiencing weight loss or inadequate growth, it’s crucial to seek medical advice to rule out any underlying health issues.
- Refusal of Entire Food Groups: If your child is avoiding entire food groups, such as fruits, vegetables, or proteins, it can be concerning, and a healthcare professional can help identify potential nutritional deficiencies.
- Limited Progress: If your efforts to expand your child’s food choices haven’t shown any progress, or if their picky eating is causing significant stress or conflicts within the family, it may be beneficial to seek professional guidance.
- Sensory or Texture Issues: Some children have sensory processing issues that affect their eating habits. If you suspect your child might have sensory sensitivities or aversions, a pediatric occupational therapist can be helpful.
- Feeding Disorders: In some cases, picky eating can be a symptom of an underlying feeding disorder. If you suspect this might be the case, consulting a pediatrician or pediatric feeding specialist is important.
- Chronic Mealtime Struggles: If mealtimes have become a consistent source of distress and anxiety for your child and family, professional support can help identify strategies to improve the situation.
Remember, healthcare professionals experienced in pediatric nutrition and feeding issues can provide personalized advice and recommendations tailored to your child’s specific needs.