Award Banner
Award Banner

Mealtime success with a picky eater: Tips and tricks for parents

Mealtime success with a picky eater: Tips and tricks for parents
PHOTO: Pixabay

Is your child a picky eater? If you said yes, the consolation is that you are not the only one. Let's face it, almost all kids are picky eaters. And sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you just can't get your child to eat the food that you're giving them. What's a mum to do?

A previous study conducted by the Head of the Paediatrics department at NUH, Associate Professor Daniel Goh, revealed that picky eating among children in Singapore is a prevalent issue.

Picky eaters in Singapore

Across a period of two months, 407 parents and grandparents of children aged one to 10 were surveyed in Singapore. Almost half of them perceived their child to be a picky eater.

When presented with a list of 15 typical picky eating and feeding difficulty behaviours (eg throwing tantrums during mealtimes and taking a long time to finish up their meals), 49.6 per cent of respondents reported that the prevalence of picky eating or feeding difficulties occurred "all the time".

The respondents also expressed concern over their child's fussy eating habits, as they are worried that this behaviour could affect their child physically and mentally.

According to Prof Goh, the "causes of picky eating and its impact can be wide-ranging." Picky eating should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Forcing your child to eat food sends the wrong message

According to a recent study conducted on college students, over 69 per cent of them say that they were forced to eat a certain type of food that they disliked when they were young. Surprisingly, because of the fact that they were forced to, 72 per cent of those respondents said that they would not willingly eat the food that they were forced to eat.

What this means is that forcing your kids to eat the food they do not like is not the way to go about things.

Forcing them to eat food can also make them feel stressed, and they might relate the food to a negative experience, making things even worse when they grow up.

How to deal with a picky eater

The important thing when it comes to feeding your picky eater a new type of food, or a type of food that they do not particularly like, would be to make it something familiar.


What you can do would be to give them a type of food that they're used to, in addition to the food that they don't like. You can try giving them a taste of the food they don't like alternately with the food that they like.

That way, they'll slowly become more familiar with the taste of the food, and in time, they'll eventually learn to like the taste of the food that's served to them.

Another key thing would be to mix things up. If you see that your kid loves hamburgers, but doesn't like eating chicken, you can serve them chicken burgers instead. It's all about trying to give them options but still making the taste familiar to them.

Kids are pretty receptive to new things, though it's important to not surprise them with strong tastes or something that's out of their comfort zone. It's all about finding a balance between new experiences and things that your kid is already familiar with.

Is your toddler a picky eater

Dr Lee Gibson, a reader in biopsychology and director of the Clinical and Health Psychology Research Centre at the University of Roehampton, said that picky eating is normal in children.

According to an article by NBC News, a 2015 review of studies from the 1990s assessed kids' eating patterns and found a connection between picky eating and personality traits, parental control at mealtime, social influences, and maternal eating patterns. Or at the very least, a kid just being a kid.

Thus, the best initial thing to do is to find the root cause so you can appropriately and properly address the concern.

In Psychology Today, Dana Blumberg, an occupational therapist in Livingston, New Jersey, has listed a few reasons why children can become picky eaters. In a study she conducted, she first asked parents to make a list of all the meals that their children will consume.

The majority of parents report that their child will eat the same food over and over again before refusing. The reason being: they got bored and started preferring another meal, and the cycle continues.

Based on Blumberg's study, here are factors you can look into to know if your child is a picky eater:

1. Preference for a specific taste

Picky eaters have a strong preference for a specific brand or recipe and will notice even minor differences if it is changed. These small discrepancies can lead to food rejection.

2. Less flavour is better

Picky eaters also like to eat "clean", which means they avoid seasonings and sauces. They may also prefer soft bread with butter, which are all moderate and predictable flavours.

3. Gastrointestinal issues

It's also crucial to rule out gastrointestinal problems that could be causing strong food preferences by examining foods that cause discomfort like reflux or constipation.

You may also consult your doctor or nutritionist to help you prepare a meal plan essentially for your child. This way, she will be able to gain the ideal weight and nutrients for growth.

4. Oral motor strength

Blumberg stressed the importance of having the physical capacity and strength to chew and crunch foods that demand more force to break down. There are various textures and odours of food that can be preferred or disliked by children.

5. Aversion to colour

Some youngsters have a strong dislike for foods of a particular colour, such as green. In the study, Blumberg addressed this by bringing in green items and scattering them over the therapy area to help the youngster adjust to the colour.

Parents are also requested to follow the same at home. The idea is to assist the child in undoing the aversion and learning to accept the colour, which will have a positive impact on eating greens.

Is being choosy with food related to a picky eater disorder

Picky eating isn't simply a stumbling block for toddlers. It can also occur in teens and adults. A very rare syndrome identified and linked to this is called avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID).

In 2013, mental health professionals identified ARFID as an eating disorder. ARFID patients are significantly restricted in their food intake. They are unable to consume foods of a specific colour, aroma, texture, or even brand name. Instead, they are limited to foods of a specific consistency.

Low interest in food, worries of choking or vomiting, feeling full around mealtimes, and a reluctance to eat with others in social situations are all ARFID red signs.

Because of this, ARFID patients are not able to consume enough calories or nutrients. This can cause growth issues as well as zinc, iron, folate, vitamin B-12, and vitamin C deficits. ARFID can also lead to:

  • Cold intolerance
  • Dizziness and fainting
  • Sleeping problems
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Dry skin
  • Digestive problems
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure

ARFID treatment

ARFID can be treated in a variety of ways. Cognitive-behavioural therapy, appetite-stimulating and anxiety-reducing medications, hospitalisation, and outpatient eating disorder programs are all possible treatments.

It is also significant for family members of people with ARFID to be involved in the treatments so they can properly assist their loved ones as they undergo treatment, even at home.

Why your baby will only eat fruit

Baby will only fruit, not vegetables? According to Julie Hammerstein, a famous nutritionist and health advisor for families, one reason why your baby will only eat fruit is that they got accustomed to sweet tastes early on in life. This is even more reinforced when parents give their children slices of fruits like bananas, strawberries, and apples as snacks.

Try to introduce vegetables to your baby early on rather than fruit since if you only offer fruits, you run the danger of encouraging your child to develop a sweet tooth and making the introduction of vegetables more difficult.

Despite the fact that fruit is a good source of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, it is still important for our bodies to get the full complement of nutrients from a variety of vegetables.

For instance, some 25,000 phytonutrients, or plant nutrients, can be found in fruits and vegetables. Given that different coloured vegetables contain different minerals, nutrients, and antioxidants, it is recommended that we eat a wide variety of vegetables in order to reap the benefits of the many varieties.

Eating a well-balanced diet that includes veggies also prepares your children for a number of healthy behaviours, including physical activity, increased water consumption, moderation of sugar intake, and general awareness of what's good for their bodies.

Can baby eat fruit every day?

The recommended minimum for children is two servings of fruits each day. But as long as it doesn't replace other nourishing foods in the diet, providing active and athletic kids an extra serving of fruits is fine.

Change the snack to veggies once your child has finished their two to three daily portions of fruits. Include veggies in their snacks! Decisions will become healthier and easier if unhealthy snacks are removed from the refrigerator and pantry since the eyes see what the stomach wants.

Tips on feeding extremely picky eaters

Consider these tips while preparing food for extremely picky eater toddlers:

Do not force your child into a meal

Don't impose a meal or snack on your child if he or she is not hungry. Don't bribe or compel your picky eater to eat certain meals or wipe his or her plate, either. A power struggle over food may spark your child to connect mealtime with anxiety and frustration. He or she may even become less attentive to hunger and fullness signs.

To prevent overloading your youngster, provide tiny quantities and allow him or her to autonomously request more. Have fixed meal and snack times and serve small, manageable portions. Praise the child if he finishes a portion.

If your child rejects the initial meal, preparing a separate meal for him or her may encourage fussy eating. Even if your child doesn't eat, encourage him or her to sit at the table for the designated mealtime.

Be a role model to your picky eater

Research shows that pretend kitchen play helps a child adopt a healthy attitude towards food and eating. Why? Because the kid can imitate what healthy eating looks like from their usual playmate - the parent.

Do you also eat vegetables or do you prefer to load up on food that you're comfortable with? Your child is more likely to eat food that he sees you enjoying. As far as possible, eat at the table together as a family.

Be patient with introducing a new food

Young toddlers frequently touch and smell novel foods, and they may even put small pieces in their mouths and subsequently swallow them.

Before your child takes the first bite of a new meal, he or she may need to be exposed to it several times. Encourage your youngster by discussing the colour, shape, aroma, and texture of a dish rather than if it tastes delicious.

It could also help to involve your child in the process of preparing their food. You could take them to the supermarket to learn about fruits and vegetables or give them tasks to do in the kitchen.

Make eating fun

Get creative with meals. Serve broccoli and other vegetables with a dip or sauce of your choice. You may also use cookie cutters to cut foods into various shapes.

Let your child have fun interacting with food. For example, he could stamp shapes out of raw vegetables, or pretend to be a rabbit chewing on a carrot.

Lessen the distractions

During meals, turn off the television and other technological devices. This will assist your child in concentrating on his or her meal. Keep in mind that advertisements may influence your child's desire for sugary or unhealthy foods.

Create a routine

Every day, provide meals and snacks at around the same time. If your child refuses to eat a meal, regular snack time will provide an opportunity for him or her to eat healthy foods.

However, allowing your child to eat as much juice, milk, or snacks as he or she wants during the day may reduce his or her appetite for meals. Avoid snacks or drinks for at least an hour before main meals.

Be very chill about the whole thing

Remove uneaten food without fuss. Be patient and calm during meals, as it may take many attempts before a picky eater will taste a type of food that he is not familiar with.

Instead, reward the child with non-edible items like a sticker or a playground trip if he finishes a meal.

Consult your paediatrician

If you think you or your child is having trouble with a picky eating disorder, consult your primary care physician immediately. He or she can help you rule out symptoms and concerns, and then guide you to the right solution and treatment.

This article was first published in theAsianparent.

This website is best viewed using the latest versions of web browsers.