Nutrition

Picky Eater? 10 Ways to Help Your Child Make Healthier Choices

Blech! I don’t like that.”

If you’ve had someone balk at what you serve for dinner, you know how frustrating a picky eater can be. 

Everyone dislikes particular foods. During mealtime, we might avoid that food and even be difficult about eating it.1 

Kids are especially prone to picky eating. About one in five parents with kids ages two to five, in fact, say that their child is picky. This type of behavior is normal during that age. Rest assured, most of them will eventually outgrow that pickiness.2 

While it occurs, though, picky eating can create health problems. 

For one, picky eaters are more likely to have nutrient deficiencies. They tend to prefer sugary, processed foods while avoiding fish, vegetables, and other nutrient-rich foods. As a result, picky eaters often have lower levels of zinc and other nutrients.3 

One study found that three nutrients — vitamin E, calcium, and magnesium — were low in both the picky and non-picky groups. However, levels of vitamin E and folate were significantly lower for the picky eaters.4

These and other deficiencies can impact growth, development, brain health, and so much more.

Even with the healthiest diet, your child might not be getting sufficient amounts of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients their bodies need to thrive. Studies show that a multivitamin can fill the nutrient gaps you might not be getting from food.5 Max Kids Multivitamin makes a simple, convenient, and delicious way to fill those nutrient gaps.

Encourage your child to eat vegetables and other nutrient-rich foods. At the same time, rest assured that taking Max Kids Multivitamin can fill in those spots your child might not be getting.

What Determines Picky Eating?

Picky eating puts stress on parents, siblings, caregivers, and other people surrounding that child.6 

Kids can be picky eaters for many reasons. In one review, researchers looked at studies about picky eaters over the past 25 years. Twenty-four of the 60 studies they reviewed showed anywhere between six and 50 percent of children were picky eaters.7 

Rather than conclude on one clear definition, these researchers determined that picky eaters fall into several categories, including:

  • Not wanting to eat familiar foods
  • Not wanting to try new foods
  • Having strong food likes and dislikes
  • Preferring drinks to food
  • Eating disorders8

Put another way, some picky eaters might eat just one food, such as chicken nuggets. Others might not eat much of anything or refuse to eat at all.9

While their habits differ, picky eaters have one thing in common: They choose fewer fruits and vegetables, meaning they get fewer nutrients including antioxidants. They are more likely to prefer sweetened foods such as cereal compared to unsweetened ones.10 

Gender doesn’t impact those decisions: Research shows that boys and girls can equally be picky. Some can be sensitive to the taste, smell, and texture of food. Others model the picky eating habits of their parents.11 

One silver lining: Having siblings seem to prevent picky eating.12 

How to Help Picky Eaters

Lack of food variety can impact a child’s health and wellbeing. Picky eaters are more prone to be underweight, which can impact growth, development, and even contribute to eating disorders.13 

Picky eating can also lead to overweight and obesity.14 Sugary, high-calorie drinks especially can stall a child’s appetite.15  

As a parent or caregiver, you have more of an impact than you might think. How you eat and how their peers eat can impact a child’s food preferences.16 Your child, in turn, decides how much of that food he or she eats. You might have to introduce a food up to 15 times before your child eats it.17 

Just because your child rejects something doesn’t make that food a definite no. Instead, offer small amounts of the food they rejected on at least 10 separate occasions.18 

In other words, persistence and patience can help a picky eater more likely to eat their broccoli. If they still reject that food, however, experts suggest just letting it go.19

10 Ways to Handle Picky Eaters

During early childhood, about one in four kids can have an eating problem. Most will grow out of picky eating.20

How you respond to a picky eater can impact a child’s food choices. Don’t punish, berate, or reward eating behaviors. Withholding dessert or forcing your kid to eat can backfire.21 

On the other hand, don’t let them dictate what you serve or force you to cook something different because they don’t like what you offer.22 Instead of starting a civil war at the dinner table, make eating fun and gently introduce new foods.

  1. Determine why they’re being picky. Pinpointing what triggers picky eating can reveal the right ways to handle your child’s situation. Maybe your child doesn’t like the taste. Perhaps she isn’t hungry. Refusing to eat something could be a power struggle where your child tries to exert control.23 A few children might have food allergies or underlying health problems.24 
  2. Create a set schedule and stick with it. Help your child feel comfortable that they will get a meal soon, which can help minimize in-between meal snacking.25 Make sure that they aren’t drinking sugary beverages or grazing between meals.26 Skipping meals can also create bad habits, so maintain a consistent eating schedule.27
  3. Give them the right foods. Overall, kids need more food than adults. That might make them pre-wired to choose higher-calorie foods. But just because their bodies demand more energy doesn’t mean you should allow them to devour donuts and other nutrient-empty foods.28 Keep your kitchen stocked with plenty of vegetables, grab-and-go fruits, and other healthy foods that help them meet their caloric and nutrient intake.
  4. Make food fun. Mealtime doesn’t have to be a boring, bland affair. Be creative and mix your meals up. Have dinner for breakfast. Turn broccoli into “trees.”29 Make meals a contest, where kids rate them between one and 10.30 Keep the conversation lively and the environment comfortable.31 
  5. Get your kid involved. Help your kids step away from electronics and more in tune with what’s going on. Provide tasks at the grocery store, such as helping you find particular fruits and vegetables. Make preparing dinner an interactive experience. Even your small ones can tear, peel, and otherwise prepare foods.32 Our many delicious recipes, including Green Bean Almondine, can help your kids get more vegetables and feel satisfied.
  6. Be patient. Your child’s eating behavior is totally normal. Stay positive, and encourage your child to be calm too. Boundaries are key: Don’t allow tantrums!33 Establishing healthy, consistent eating habits doesn’t happen overnight. If your child doesn’t finish everything on his plate, don’t worry or give up.34
  7. Keep a food journal. Track everything your child eats for three days. A food journal can ease your worries and provide you perspective about whether your child’s eating habits warrant concern. If they are, showing the food journal to your healthcare practitioner can help him or her better determine the problem.35
  8. Remember that you’re building habits for life. Your child’s eating habits won’t change overnight. Small steps can yield big rewards. You’re preparing for your child with healthy habits for life, after all. Remember too that how you eat creates a big impact on their food choices.36
  9. Consider professional help. Most kids outgrow picky eating. But about one to two percent of those children might require professional help. Talk to your healthcare professional if picky eating impacts your child’s nutrient intake, gets worse, if they aren’t improving, or if you’re overwhelmed.37 
  10. Get the right nutrients. Picky eaters oftentimes don’t get sufficient amounts of the nutrients they need to thrive. Our naturally sweetened MaxKids Chewable Multivitamin creates the foundation for healthy growth and development. Each chewable tablet contains absorbable vitamins, minerals, citrus bioflavonoids, and fermented superfoods. Unlike many commercial multivitamins, ours does not contain added sugar or other problem ingredients.  MaxKids Chewable Multivitamin can fill nutrient gaps. You can rest assured even the pickiest eater will be getting the nutrients to thrive.

Dealing with a picky eater can be frustrating. After a long day at the office, the last thing you’re in the mood for is a tantrum at the dinner table.

Hard as it might be, be positive and don’t give up. Remember that it may require 10 tries to encourage a child to develop a taste for a new food.38 Persistence is the key to success!

References

  1. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-tips-to-handle-your-picky-eater/
  2. https://www.webmd.com/parenting/guide/picky-eater-kids#1
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5118732/
  4. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666315003438
  5. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-get-your-nutrients-from-food-or-from-supplements
  6. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666315003438
  7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666315003438
  8. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666315003438
  9. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=helping-picky-eaters-expand-their-palates-1-19973
  10. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666315003438
  11. https://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/education/picky_eaters/
  12. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666315003438
  13. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41430-018-0250-7
  14. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666315003438
  15. https://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/education/picky_eaters/
  16. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666315003438
  17. https://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/education/picky_eaters/
  18. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666315003438
  19. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-tips-to-handle-your-picky-eater/
  20. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=helping-picky-eaters-expand-their-palates-1-19973
  21. https://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/education/picky_eaters/
  22. https://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/education/picky_eaters/
  23. https://www.webmd.com/parenting/guide/picky-eater-kids#1
  24. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=helping-picky-eaters-expand-their-palates-1-19973
  25. https://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/education/picky_eaters/
  26. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0195666315003438
  27. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-tips-to-handle-your-picky-eater/
  28. https://www.parentingscience.com/picky-eaters.html
  29. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/childrens-health/art-20044948
  30. https://www.webmd.com/parenting/guide/picky-eater-kids#1
  31. https://www.ucsfbenioffchildrens.org/education/picky_eaters/
  32. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/childrens-health/art-20044948
  33. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=helping-picky-eaters-expand-their-palates-1-19973
  34. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-tips-to-handle-your-picky-eater/
  35. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/childrens-health/art-20044948
  36. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/childrens-health/in-depth/childrens-health/art-20044948
  37. https://www.stanfordchildrens.org/en/topic/default?id=helping-picky-eaters-expand-their-palates-1-19973
  38. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/5-tips-to-handle-your-picky-eater/