Picky Eating: What You Should Know

Children with picky eating habits may have difficulty introducing new foods into their diet and may have a decreased appetite. Learn more.
Picky Eating: What You Should Know
Saúl Sánchez Arias

Written and verified by the nutritionist Saúl Sánchez Arias.

Last update: 02 November, 2022

Children with picky eating habits are those who are overly selective about the food they eat. This can be a problem, as they reject the inclusion of new foods in their diet, which can jeopardize the diversity of their diet. In the medium term, this habit can result in a nutrient deficit that conditions their state of health.

It’s important to keep in mind that a good diet is varied and balanced. It’s essential to ensure the presence of vegetables and different fresh foods. These products have a high nutritional density, so they provide the necessary elements to ensure the proper functioning of the body. It’s key to instill good dietary habits from the early stages of life.

What does picky eating refer to?

When we talk about picky eating in children, we’re talking about those little ones who refuse to introduce new foods into their diet. They refuse to try different flavors and may have periods of poor appetite and sensory disturbances. This is usually a transient problem. However, it greatly limits the pattern of children, which can generate diseases in the medium term.

On the other hand, it should be noted that picky eaters eat less food than the average child. This can generate an energy deficit that conditions development. It’s important to take into account that protein needs during childhood are increased, according to a study published in the Annals of Nutrition & Metabolism. If they aren’t met, the child’s growth could be at risk.

In any case, when offering new foods to children, you should always be a little insistent. It takes an average of about 8 tastes of a food for them to accept it as a regular part of their diet. Therefore, don’t be discouraged either, and try to offer the new food prepared in different ways to capture their attention.

A child looking uninterested in eating her brocolli.

Growth of picky eaters

One of the concerns of pediatricians regarding children with picky eating habits is that growth isn’t optimal, as they eat less quantity and variety of foods than other infants. In this regard, it’s crucial to achieve minimum caloric requirements. If these are met, they’ll develop normally, without too many alterations.

In addition, this eating disorder usually improves with time. It’s estimated that it begins at 12 months of age and doesn’t extend beyond two years of age. Therefore, patience and insistence will be essential when trying to propose a diet that’s as varied as possible and sufficient in energy.

Either way, it’s possible to find some research that states that children with picky eating habits usually measure and weigh somewhat less than their counterparts. Even so, they’re within the percentiles that are considered normal, so this doesn’t cause undue concern among physicians.

However, there are no studies that show whether there’s an association between this eating disorder and an increased incidence of excess weight or obesity. The key here is to try to implement a diet with a predominance of fresh foods while encouraging good lifestyle habits such as physical activity to stimulate energy expenditure.

Tips for managing picky eating habits

Finally, we’re going to offer you a series of tips to improve the management of picky eating habits in children, with the aim of ensuring the most appropriate feeding possible.

  • It’s preferable not to overfill their plates, offering small amounts and giving them the option to repeat if necessary.
  • It’s always important to offer new foods several times to gain acceptance.
  • Avoid snacking and juices, as they can suppress appetite.
  • Vary the way meals are prepared, making menus palatable.
A young girl giving two thumbs up to a salad.

It’s essential to optimize the diet of picky eaters

As you’ve seen, picky eaters often have some difficulty meeting their energy requirements and don’t like to try new foods. It’s very important to be patient and encourage a diet as varied as possible that covers the doses of essential nutrients.

In case of any doubt, it’s important to consult with a pediatrician or with a specialist in pediatric nutrition to optimize the diet and achieve optimal development and growth. Otherwise, the correct functioning of the body could be jeopardized in the medium term.

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  • Richter, M., Baerlocher, K., Bauer, J. M., Elmadfa, I., Heseker, H., Leschik-Bonnet, E., Stangl, G., Volkert, D., Stehle, P., & on behalf of the German Nutrition Society (DGE) (2019). Revised Reference Values for the Intake of Protein. Annals of nutrition & metabolism74(3), 242–250. https://doi.org/10.1159/000499374
  • Taylor, C. M., Steer, C. D., Hays, N. P., & Emmett, P. M. (2019). Growth and body composition in children who are picky eaters: a longitudinal view. European journal of clinical nutrition73(6), 869–878. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41430-018-0250-7

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