Picky Eaters – When is too picky a problem?

Picky eating is a common issue among young children.  Many parents live through the recurrent choruses of “No! I won’t try that!” and brainstorm creative strategies to encourage their children to eat fruits and vegetables.  However, for some children and their families, selective eating is more than a normative phase.  Selective eaters often maintain a limited range of foods and beverages that they will accept, sometimes refusing to eat a particular item if its color or brand deviates from their specific preferences.  As such, for parents of selective eaters, mealtimes can become a dreaded time of day involving frequent conflicts and tantrums.  

Nancy Zucker and colleagues recently published findings in a September 2015 article in Pediatrics, which showed that preschool-aged children with selective eating (i.e., those who maintain a limited range of preferred food or whose eating habits make it difficult to eat with others) had higher rates of anxiety and depression symptoms and concurrent impairment, reduced growth, enhanced sensory sensitivity related to food (e.g., texture), and increased risk for subsequent anxiety, when compared to children without selective eating.   

With many families experiencing stress related to picky eating, an important question arises as to when this pattern of eating should become a significant concern.  Important considerations include whether a child’s selective eating interferes with his/her ability to participate in developmentally appropriate activities (e.g., going on playdates, eating at the school cafeteria or a restaurant), as well as the degree to which a child’s eating behavior disrupts his/her family’s plans or routines.

If you are a parent of a picky eater:

  • Try to make eating a fun and positive experience for your child.   
  • Praise and reward your child for trying something new.
  • Monitor your child’s growth and share any concerns you have about the possible negative impact of selective eating with your pediatrician.

If you are interested in receiving more support from Georgetown Psychology Associates to address selective eating, click HERE.