This topic is such a common complaint from parents of toddlers; Picky eating tends to emerge around about 1 year of age and can last into adulthood. Most children do begin eating a wider range of foods as they get older but in the meantime, many parents worry.
As a parent, you may wonder if picky eating is dangerous. Usually, no. Picky eating is very common and most toddlers and young children manage to get the majority of vitamins and minerals they need. Sometimes picky eating can be a sign of something else, like a sensory processing disorder. Occasionally picky eating becomes extreme and can pose health issues so if you’re worried then it’s always best to get in touch with your family’s usual healthcare provider
Picky eating can happen for a whole host of different reasons but it does actually have a biological basis. For many children picky eating emerges around age 1, this is also when growth and appetite naturally slow down. It tends to peak around age 2 or 3, and this has an interesting basis in human history; in primitive societies, this is the age at which a mother would typically have another baby and would therefore spend much of their time caring for the baby whilst the toddler would have been under the charge of older children for much of the day. As children went off to play many would encounter a range of plants and fruits, so around this age, a sense of carefulness about one eats would have been an evolutionary advantage as avoiding unknown foods would keep children safe until they had the ability to determine what was or was not safe.
As parents we want our children to be well-nourished and to enjoy trying new foods not only because it makes dinnertime heaps easier when we can cook for the whole family but because food and mealtimes are an important part of human culture that we want to include our children in. Here are a few tips that might help;
Often our expectations around children’s eating patterns are unrealistic. As well as the range of food we often expect our children to eat, we often expect our children to eat too much food. A baby or toddler’s stomach is usually about the size of their clenched fist, so their portion sizes need to be significantly smaller than we might think.
In childhood, we are aiming to set our children up with healthy relationships with food to last through the rest of their lives, taking a relaxed attitude to food is more likely to result in a child willing to try different, exciting foods.
Children are much more likely to try food that they have helped to prepare, so invite them into the kitchen to help you prepare some new meals.
Sometimes children are more willing to try new foods that are presented in a fun way so you could try shaped cutters, or get artistic with the presentation. Some children may like their food separated so they can see clearly what is being offered and decide what to eat without it being mixed with anything else.
Consider what your ultimate goal is; a wide variety of food, or a relaxed dinnertime. When mealtimes are fun, low-pressure, and special events children tend to be more relaxed and more open to trying new things. Make mealtimes a time to chat about the day and consider using table decorations, candles, or a special drink to set the mood.
The most important tip is to be open, relaxed and patient, it can take between 7 and 15 tries before a child acquires a taste, so lots of experimenting in a low-pressure environment will be necessary for setting children up with healthy food habits going forwards.