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All you need to know about picky eaters and fussy eaters

Picky eaters are very selective about what they eat. They have a reluctance to eat, or even sample new foods. This condition is also known as “food neophobia”. Children with neophobia often reject many ‘new’ foods, for example refusal to eat specific food groups (such as vegetables or fruits). This can result in children eating a limited variety of foods.

Fussy eaters, on the other hand will reject foods that they like one day, but then happily eat them the next. Fussy eaters may want toast cut into circles today and squares tomorrow.

The causes of picky eating vary:

  • It may be a way for a child to have some control in his or her life.

  • It may be due to increased sensitivity to textures or flavours of food.

  • Psychosocial factors can also increase a child's chances of developing picky eating. Young children carefully watch parental food preferences, and this may produce neophobic tendencies with regard to eating if parents tend to avoid some foods.

  • Genetics also seems to play a role in picky eating. Research shows that about two-thirds of the variation in picky eating is due to genetics. A study done on twin pairs showed an even higher correlation, indicating that genetics does play a factor in picky eating.

Generally, picky eating in children peaks between 2–5 years of age. Picky and fussy eating behaviours result in a child having a diet, that is, deficient in macronutrients (i.e. carbohydrates, proteins & fats) and in vital micronutrients (i.e. vitamins & minerals). The full potential of a child for physical growth and mental development may be reduced due to the deficiencies of these micronutrients which are commonly referred to as “hidden hunger”.

Micronutrients are required for proper and optimal functioning of the immune system. Children with subclinical deficiency of micronutrients are more vulnerable to develop frequent and more severe common day to day infections thus triggering a vicious cycle of under nutrition and recurrent infections. A number of micronutrients are required for optimal physical growth and neuromotor development. Hence a healthy diet in children is important to provide nutrients that support optimum physical growth and cognitive development.

Tips to Help Tame Picky Eaters

  • It’s important to introduce as many foods as possible at an early age.

  • It’s really important to hide your frustrations. Instead, give them lots of praise when they eat well or tried something new.

  • Children love to help with food preparation tasks such as pouring, stirring and spreading that are well within the capabilities of a young child. Children who are involved in preparing food are more likely to eat it.

  • If your child does not eat vegetables, create innovative recipes such as blending into a vegetable sauce, blend cauliflower in  homemade pizza dough, adding carrot or sweet potato puree to a chocolate chip cookie mix. You can also add them to brownie batter and chocolate cakes.

  • Avoid empty calorie snacks like chips or soft drinks and keep a supply of healthy snacks on hand – maybe have a low shelf in the fridge with cut up fresh fruit and other healthy foods.

  • Try to make your child’s food not only tasty but also a little creative so that it looks good too. 
     

References
Fussy or picky eating. (2016, 06 September). Retrieved from http://www.health.govt.nz/your-health/pregnancy-and-kids/under-fives/helpful-advice-years-1-5/fussy-or-picky-eating

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