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Picky Eating

Image by Marcos Paulo Prado

Picky eating is a common early childhood behavior. There is no single broadly accepted definition of picky eating, and it is therefore difficult to clearly set parameters for and investigate.


Picky eating is typically categorized as part of a range of feeding difficulties. Picky eating is generally defined as a refusal to try new foods entirely, as well as having strong food preferences and avoiding some familiar foods.

Babies start out  very receptive to new experiences about the age of 4 to 6 months and will try any food. As your child reaches maturity, he or she will develop some food preferences and may become more “picky” or selective eaters, but this should pass by the age of five.

Although all people have food preferences and this itself is not overtly concerning, some children will limit their food consumption to just a few foods or types of foods, which impacts and often restricts their nutrient intake. Additionally, some children may be “picky” in that they prefer carrots and cauliflower to broccoli and peas, but if your child refuses entire food groups or all foods with a particular texture, they may be at risk for missing vital nutrients. 

Signs and symptoms 

Picky eaters will often avoid foods that are not on their “preferred” list. This can range from ignoring foods when presented on their plate to throwing full blown tantrums when presented with non-preferred items. Some children may also have a physiologic response to the sight or smell of non-preferred foods, such as experiencing nausea  or gagging.

Parents can play a role in limiting choice by providing the structure and support in which children learn to become comfortable with a variety of foods. The foods most often rejected are vegetables. Young children often touch or smell new foods, and might even put tiny bits in their mouths .Your child might come to associate mealtime with anxiety and frustration or become less sensitive to his or her own hunger and fullness cues.


Here some of signs of picky eaters:


  • Consumes only small amounts or holds food in their mouth for a long time before swallowing

  • Only eats their favorite foods

  • Disrupted mealtime routines

  • Anxiety when presented with new or different foods

  • Dislikes eating fruits or vegetables

  • Avoids meal times and consumes mostly snacks instead

Risk Factors for Picky Eating In Children

Based on the results of interviews conducted by researchers it can be concluded that: 

1. There is a relationship between exclusive breastfeeding and decreased incidence of picky eating in children 
2. There is a relationship between maternal intake and nutrition with the incidence of picky eating in children 
3. There is a relationship between maternal eating behavior and the incidence of picky eating children


The consequences for the child's diet include 

Poor dietary variety and a possible distortion of nutrient intakes, with low intakes of iron and zinc, associated with low intakes of meat, fruit and vegetables being of particular concern. 
Low intakes of dietary fiber, as a result of low intakes of fruit and vegetables, are associated with constipation in picky eaters. 

In addition to the physical side effects, the noticeable consequence of picky eating is the emotional toll on the family. The dinner table becomes less of a place to enjoy a meal together, and instead feels like a battleground over who should eat what and how much.

There may be problems with gaining enough weight and growth in some picky individuals, as well as the chance of micronutrients deficiency. The most common deficiencies are calcium (from a lack of dairy products), iron (from a lack of red meat or beans), and omega-3 fatty acids (from a refusal to consume fish, nuts, and seeds).

Additionally, picky eating, if left untreated, can have negative affects on child-parent bonding, disrupt mealtime routines and increase family stress, impact social relationships, such as with peers or at school/daycare, and limit a child’s ability to participate in the same activities as their peers.


Extreme forms of picky eating, such as avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) can lead to serious complications, such as organ failure, loss of hearing or vision, and hospitalization due to malnutrition and inadequate nutrient intake to support organ function. 

If you are concerned about food selectivity or picky eating, consult a licensed feeding specialist to determine the cause of picky eating and make recommendations to improve dietary variety and intake. 

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