Have you or somebody else blamed your kid’s picky eating on YOU? Think again, because parents often aren’t the reason for their kid’s picky eating. Learn why and how we can help parents of picky eaters.
Give her what you’re making for dinner and if she doesn’t eat it, then let her wait for breakfast. She’ll learn to eat what you serve, and you can stop catering to her.
What are the parents doing with Benny, he wouldn’t even eat pizza at Chase’s birthday party? What else was I supposed to serve to a bunch of 5 year olds?
Don’t let them get up from the table until they’ve cleaned their plate, then they won’t be picky anymore.
If you have a picky eater, then you’ve probably heard the same sort of “advice” about your child. Did you pick up on the common thread with each of the above statements? It’s that YOU are to blame for your child’s picky eating.
You just need to parent your child differently and all of the picky eating will go away.
As a pediatric OT that has helped thousands of parents of picky eaters, this is most often completely untrue. And worse, it beats down parents who are already feeling defeated and hopeless because everything they try to do to get their picky eaters to eat does. not. work.
Well meaning family members, friends, and even sometimes doctors, need to consider that there’s another explanation for why your child isn’t eating well. And, it may have nothing to do with what the parents are or aren’t doing.
There Are A LOT of Picky Eaters
Now more than any other time in history, kids are picky about the foods they’ll eat. Some studies estimate that as many as 50% of all kids are considered picky eaters at some point in their childhood.
And, 9-11% of kids can be extreme picky eaters that covers a significant amount of time in their childhood and possibly continuing into adulthood if left untreated.
My point is that there are a lot of picky eating kids. We all need to understand why the heck these kids are so picky in the first place so that parents feel supported instead of judged.
Why Kids Are Picky Eaters
So why are kids picky eaters? There are a few reasons. The most common is that it’s a typical phase kids go through around the ages of 1-5. If your child is still a picky eater at 7, 10, or 13, it is not just a phase.
Toddlers and preschoolers tend to be picky eaters because:
- Their attention span is short and they’d rather be moving and playing.
- Their taste buds are much more sensitive and bitter foods like vegetables taste extremely unpalatable.
- They’re trying to exert some independence into their life in one of the few areas they can actually control: eating.
But, some toddlers, preschoolers, and older children have more layers to the picky eating problem that go way beyond these 3 reasons.
Picky Eating Isn’t Always Just a Phase
Some picky eaters will only eat a handful foods. Or, they might gag or even throw up when they just look at or taste a new food. They’d rather skip a meal or two then have to eat something new or different than their usual foods.
What I’m describing is an extreme picky eating situation.
When a child is an extreme picky eater, there is a REASON why and it’s not because the parent isn’t making them eat their green beans. Here are some of the most common reasons why a child might be a picky eater besides the typical developmental phase:
- Textures, tastes, and smells of foods taste different to them than most people, which is due to difficulties with their sensory processing. [link to sensory processing and picky eating]
- It’s difficult to manipulate, move, and chew food due to oral motor weakness or coordination difficulties.
- Hidden food sensitivities, allergies, and a host of other physical conditions that make eating uncomfortable, painful, or suppresses their appetite.
- Clinical anxiety around the safety and consumption of food.
It’s easy for parents and doctors to miss any of these causes of picky eating because they aren’t taught about them. Most doctors learn very little about the treatment of picky eating. They are taught to watch for weight and growth deficits, which aren’t always an issue for picky eater.
And, all of the basic parenting books that new parents tend to read don’t cover picky eating difficulties despite it being one of the most stressful challenges for parents.
Parents Are Usually Trying REALLY Hard
I’ve probably been told 500 times or more by parents that their child only eats 4 foods, mealtimes are extremely stressful, but they’re growing well so the doctor said don’t worry about it.
Parents don’t know what else to do or where else to turn so they either throw their hands up in defeat hoping it will change someday or try random strategies to no avail that friends and family have suggested.
Having a picky eater is not an easy road.
It’s a real struggle, and while it might seem really strange that Benny won’t eat the pizza or the chicken nuggets at the birthday party, there’s a reason why.
And, it’s not because it’s the parents fault.
Instead of Blaming Parents for Their Kids Picky Eating, Try…
We all need to understand that there are hidden reasons for why a child might be a picky eater, and that parents are often doing the best they can. Most of the time, they aren’t looking for advice.
They’re looking for some kindness and support.
Simply changing the expectation that all kids will eat pizza/hot dogs/chicken nuggets or whatever popular kids food at the next birthday party, school function, or play date is a good start.
Don’t be offended if a child doesn’t eat what you’ve served. They’re probably okay with it.
Or, you can consider having a couple of different foods available.
My middle son had his birthday party at a local Ninja Gym a couple of weeks ago and the party included pizza and Gatorade.
I was thrilled to not have to get anything for the party, but a few days before the party I realized everyone might not like pizza and so we picked up a variety of individual chip bags to also have on the table.
I was glad I did because two kids did not like pizza.
Again, their parents probably figured there would be pizza served and didn’t even mention it to me, but I liked having an option for them. The takeaway here is to just accept what a kid isn’t eating because you might not know what’s really going on.
Just like some kids are really good at math or baseball or dance and some kids need a lot of help with math or aren’t very athletic, some kids are good eaters and some kids aren’t.
We have to get away from trying to blame the parents when we see just a small snippet of what a child’s eating and how parents are feeding them.
If You’re the Parent of a Picky Eater…
As a parent, you may even be blaming yourself. My hope is that in understanding that there are a lot of kids struggling with picky eating and that there are legit explainable reasons for why your child is so selective about their food that you can begin to help your child.
We just opened the doors to our once-a-year free picky eating mini course. It includes includes some tried and tested strategies that could finally help eliminate stress at meals and get your kid eating new foods.
It won’t be available for long and is packed with tips and strategies that could change everything!
More Help for Picky Eaters
Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 17 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.