Picky Eaters

Children with food preferences are often labelled as “picky eaters”. Parents need to be aware that it is normal for children to have food preferences. Toddlers and young children often reject new foods. If a food is rejected, continue to offer it again and again at other times. The more times children are exposed to new foods, the more likely they are to accept them. Remember that a child’s “no” today doesn’t mean “no” forever.

A food jag or “picky eating” may just be a change in appetite. Keep in mind that children will eat when they are hungry. Most children will gain an appetite when they are having a growth spurt and need more food for energy.

Children develop at different rates. Between the ages of one and five years, children are learning many new skills that take lots of practice such as drinking from a regular cup without spilling or eating with a spoon or fork instead of hands. This takes place at the same time they are being introduced to the tastes and textures of new foods and learning to show their independence by saying “no”.

Parents want children to eat the food that is offered to ensure they are getting enough food to grow, develop and learn. Unnecessary conflict can be avoided by taking the pressure off children to eat or consume a certain amount and type of food. Pressuring a child to eat a particular food may actually increase their dislike for that food. Here are some helpful suggestions for parents or caregivers of children with food preferences:

  • § Stay calm. Becoming upset may actually reward your child’s behaviour.
  • § Be patient. Children will eat when they are hungry.
  • § Use Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide to plan meals and snacks.
  • § Choose not to be a short order cook. Don’t get into the habit of cooking special meals for your child.
  • § Give your child a choice of foods when appropriate. For example, let him choose a green vegetable – either peas or broccoli.
  • § Spark your child’s interest by preparing and serving foods in a variety of shapes and colours.
  • § Once at the table, let your child decide how much to eat from the foods being served.
  • § Let the child make the choice not to eat a certain food or the whole meal.
  • § Serve meals and snacks every 2 or 3 hours, including bedtime.
  • § Stick to a rule that food is only offered at planned meal and snack times.
  • § Set an example by eating healthy foods. Young children like to copy what others do.

Children need the right foods to grow, be healthy and have lots of energy. Meals and snacks are an important part of a young child’s day. Children learn about food while connecting with family and friends. By keeping mealtimes relaxed and enjoyable, children are more likely to accept and enjoy eating new foods.

WRITTEN BY THE PUBLIC HEALTH NUTRITIONISTS OF SASKATCHEWAN

Originator: Heather Torrie, Sunrise Health Region

References:

Canadian Paediatric Society. “When Your Child is a Picky Eater”, www.caringforkids.cps.ca/.

Marian Law, “Healthy Foods for Growing Children: Feeding your Toddler”, www.parentscanada.com/.

Ministry of Education, “Children with Food Preferences – Mealtime Mentoring”, www.learning.gov.sk.ca/, September 2008.

Public Health Nutritionists of Saskatchewan, Nutrition Update Newsletter, Winter 2009.