What is picky eating?

The term 'picky eating' can be described as the consumption of an inadequate variety of food. Common characteristics of picky eaters include-

  • Eating a limited amount of food
  • Refusing food (particularly fruits and vegetables)
  • Being unwilling to try new foods and accepting only a few types of food
  • Preferring drinks/juices over food
  • Having strong food preferences
  • Eating sweets and fatty foods instead of healthy foods
  • Eating snacks instead of having proper meals

Introducing new foods to fussy eaters

Following tips might help those who have a fussy eater and doesn't like trying new food-

  • Try a small amount of new food along with the familiar food that your child already likes.
  • Present only one new food at a time.
  • Appetite is stimulated when children exercise and play. They will be more likely to try the new food when hungry and don't have the option of eating anything else.
  • Make food look attractive. Make it fun. Cut the food in unusual shapes or create a food collage (broccoli florets for trees, cauliflower for clouds, coloured bell peppers).
  • Have your child help prepare meals. They are more willing to eat something that they have helped to make.
  • If the child refuses a new food, offer just one bite of the new food. If the child continues to refuse after three attempts, do not force the child. It can be reintroduced after a few days or weeks.
  • A child's preference often changes, although it can take up to ten exposures before the child accepts the food.
  • Set a good example. If you eat a variety of healthy foods, your child is more likely to follow suit.
  • Look for opportunities where your child shares meals and snacks with other children. It might be easier for your child to try new food along with their friends.

Feeding tips for parents

  • Serve small and frequent (2–3 hours between each meal and snack time). This allows the child to become hungry before the next meal.
  • Milk, nutritional beverages, juice, soup or water should be given at the end of the meal or snack, and not before, in order to prevent filling their stomachs.
  • Limit beverages and snacks, to avoid filling up between mealtimes.
  • Distractions like television, electronic gadgets, toys or books at mealtimes should be avoided.
  • Families should eat together. This allows interaction and bonding as well as provides an opportunity to teach healthy eating habits to children.
  • Maintain a neutral attitude during feeding time. Bribes, threats, prodding, scolding or punishments will reduce rather than increase the intake of food. Verbal praise or a loving look is considered positive in developing food likes.
  • Don't offer dessert as a reward. It will send the message that dessert is the best food, and this will only increase your child's desire for sweets.

Picky eaters are going through a normal developmental stage. Just as it takes numerous repetitions for advertising to convince an adult consumer to buy, it takes most children 8-10 presentations of a new food before they will openly accept it.


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