What is picky eating and what you can do about it

So you think you have a picky eater

Let me guess, your little one turned 13 or 14 months and all of a sudden has started to refuse to eat most of the foods they drooled over. You’re here because you want to know if picky eating is as bad as everyone makes it out to be, what you did wrong, and how you can fix it. So let’s cut to the chase and talk about exactly what is picky eating and what you can do right now to make it easier for you in the long run.

What exactly is picky eating?

Well their is no hard and fast definition that perfectly defines every picky eater, as they exist on a spectrum, but in general most kids that are labelled as “picky eaters” show a few of the following signs:

  • They eat less variety of foods (think no more veggies, limited meat, only spiral noodles, and so on)
  • You need patience up the wazoo when you offer new foods as they don’t often want to try them.
  • Just when you think you have their preferences figured out, they decide their favourite foods are “yucky.” But if you try again in a few weeks they may eat those foods again.
  • They often exhibit strong food preferences and let you know in so many “fun” ways how gross the food you made really is.

What causes picky eating?

Picky eater are born AND they’re also created. Not exactly the news you wanted to hear, but hear me out.

Nature

Nurture

Certain aspects of picky eating can be explained away by genetics.
Consider things such as:

  • Food preferences
  • “Super tasters”
    • Those who taste certain flavours more strongly than others.
  • Neophobia
    • A fear of unfamiliar foods.
    • So when a food you make looks different than it did last time, or you try a whole new food or recipe, neophobia is to blame.
  • Sensory disorders
    • Such as Autism, ARFID, and others

Aversions to certain foods may occur from a traumatic event when a child was younger.

Things such as:

  • Choking incident
  • Illness
  • Allergic reaction
  • GERD

Other factors that can cause hang-ups with food include tactics parents use to “help” their child eat such as:

  • Pressure, bribes, rewards, punishment, or with-holding desserts or other treats.

Read more about why pressure and bribes often backfire here.

Read Top 4 Reasons Why Your Baby Became a Picky Eater here.

So, as you can see so many factors play into why your little eater became a picky eater. Now let’s dive into what you can do to fix it.

How can I fix picky eating?

Unfortunately picky eating isn’t something you can “cure” over night. BUT don’t lose hope, their are some steadfast tips and tactics you can start using at your next meal to help.

picky eating isn't going away

DOR to the rescue!

If you haven’t heard about Ellyn Satter, in a nutshell she is basically a ninja when it comes to raising intuitive eaters. Read more about Ellyn Satter here.

She created a feeding model that helps parents around the world feed their kids in the absolute best way possible. That model is called DOR – or the Division Of Responsibity.

In essence, DOR says this:

You have certain jobs at meal times and your kids have certain jobs at meal times.

When you cross the line and try to micromanage your kids eating by asking for bites or bribing them with dessert for example, you inadvertently cause meal time issues.

On the flip side, when you allow your kids to take over your roles at meal times, them choosing what to eat for example, you inadvertently cause meal time issues.

So what exactly are the DOR meal time roles?

Parent’s role

Child’s role

Two things:

  1. Choose WHAT food to serve at each meal or snack.
  2. Choose WHEN food is available throughout the day.

Two things:

  1. Choose WHAT to eat from what’s served by the parents (Ahem, that means no catering to special food requests.)
  2. Choose HOW MUCH they need to eat to feel satisfied (regardless if that means 2 bites or a 3rd helping.)

What else you can do besides using the Division of Responsibility

So many different tactics can be used to help your picky eater start to explore more foods. The biggest obstacle is figuring out what needs to be tackled first.

Two other things to consider:

  1. Is my child getting fed at regular intervals? (Your role)
    • Most kids age 12 – 24 months need to eat every 1 1/2 -2 hours.
    • Kids age 2 1/2 – 4 need to eat every 2 1/2 – 3 hours.
    • School age kids, and adults alike, should eat every 3-4 hours.
  2. How much milk or other liquids is my child drinking?
    • Kids tummies are tiny, so they can easily be filled up my drinking too much milk, juice or water leaving limited room for food.
    • How much is too much?
      • Kids age 12 – 24 months should be drinking no more than 2-3 cups (16-24 ounces) of milk per day.
      • Children ages 2-3 years old should have no more that 2 cups of milk or milk alternatives each day.
      • School age kids should have no more than 2 1/2 cups of milk or milk alternatives each day.

how much milk should my child get

Read more about recommended drinks for young children ages 0-5 here from Healthy Children.

That’s all for now!

I could literally keep blabbing on and on forever, but instead I’ll leave it here.  From everything you read, what’s one thing you learned about picky eating you didn’t know before?

~ L

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