Picky eaters are not born, they are made. This is a common eating disorder present during the ages of 3-7 years, if not addressed; it can lead to various health problems in later childhood. During one of my nutrition lectures I had asked a class of students, “Does your mother let you eat whatever she cooks at home?” And pat came a reply from a girl “Let us?” she roared “she makes us eat!”
Let’s look at some of the reasons that make kids picky eaters!
1. Parental Pressure: As self-feeding starts at early 3 -4 years, it marks the beginning of the food battles between moms and children. Pressure makes any activity unenjoyable. Come meal time, parents become watch-guards to the child. The constant nagging to finish the food and to ask for more makes the child to under come under a sort of a pressure. The child keeps trying to match up to the expectations of his parents. This takes the joy of eating from the child he starts perceiving eating as a ‘task’ which has to be done. The child does become hassled and seeks comfort in junk foods which when offered is taken without any qualms.
2. Mother’s anxiety and feeling of guilt: This is the next stage when you discover your child is a picky eater. Moms start feeling anxious about the health of the child. She starts feeling guilty about her inability to feed the child with her food. While, on the other hand she sees the child happily munching into goodies from market or the dishes given by neighbours, so the pressure on the mother to make her child to eat increases. This becomes a perpetual chain in which the child becomes more adamant with his wrong eating habits.
3. Monotonous food: Some children do get a little bored up with the same kind of food over a period of time and want a change. They do want to see a variety in the food in the form of different cuisines, colours and flavours. Children’s taste buds constantly evolve with age, but this pointer is often missed by the mothers and this leads the child to become a picky eater.
4. Food fads: Can you imagine that children too have food fads? They perhaps pick up these over a period of time as and when they are exposed to external food environment. It is exactly at this age they develop a taste for junk foods and would want to eat just that. TV commercials do play a vital role in this process. Junk foods have loads of empty calories sans any nutrition. But they also have some addictive components that make the kids renounce the taste of home cooked food. So you could find that a bag of chips is chosen over a plate of apple. Their food fads are to be taken into consideration but only sometimes, not always.
5. Irregular food routine: 3-4 years is the phase of children’s life when they form eating habits. A proper routine ensures such eating tantrums are completely eliminated. The timings of school lunch and snack boxes also should be taken into consideration. A child trained within a specific food routine will rarely be choosy about food. This leads to food communication gap with kids.
6. Food communication gap: Do you know that most moms have a food communication gap with their kids? This can make kids poor eaters. More often the children’s appetite is over-estimated. Children have their own freedom to say ‘No’ if they are full. Just that we need to pick up the signals at the right time. The golden dictum is that children will never starve. So never force children to eat, this in the long run can make them picky eaters.
7. Stress: It is pretty bizarre for a 3-6 year old have stress .But the truth is bitter. Exposure to excessive junk foods, electronic media, less amount of physical activity can all amount to stress that can affect the eating habits of children in a great way. Picky eating is just an off-shoot of stress induced eating problem.
Picky eating can be handled in the following ways:
Follow your child’s appetite:
If your child isn’t hungry, don’t force him to eat. Likewise, don’t bribe or force your child to eat certain foods or clean his or her plate. The better way is talk to the child about the meal or menu and check if he is really attracted towards it. Then serve a small portion and wait till he or she asks for more all by themselves. This way the child will be content that he has been awarded the freedom to take decision over his food.
Stick to the food routine:
Serve meals and snacks at about the same times every day. Provide juice or milk with the food, and offer water between meals and snacks. Allowing your child to fill up with any other knick-knacks between the meals might decrease his or her appetite for meals. Also stick to same intervals between meals-more or less. Plan your outing accordingly.
Introduce only one new food at a time:
Young children often touch or smell new foods, and may even put tiny bits in their mouths and then take them back out again. Your child might need repeated exposure to a new food before he or she takes the first bite. Encourage your child by talking about a food’s colour, shape, aroma and texture — not whether it tastes good. Serve new foods along with your child’s favourite foods.
Make eating fun:
It is important to make meal time, fun time. There are yummy ways to serve vegetables with food art skills. You could actually read food related books to children to keep them inspired about healthy eating. Serve a variety of brightly coloured foods. Try different fun recipes, vary cuisines and involve kids in cooking.
Go food shopping with your kids:
At the super market, ask your child to help you select fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. At the grocery you could teach them to differentiate between fresh food and processed food. Don’t buy anything that you don’t want your child to eat.
Set a good example
Children often relate to their parents in anything they do. So eating is no exception; as parents do not discuss too much about food choices and tastes in front of children. Eat healthy foods in front of them. They are sure to follow.
Wean them off electronic gadgets while eating:
Turn off the television and other electronic gadgets during meals. This will help your child focus on eating. Keep in mind that television advertising might also encourage your child to desire sugary foods.
Have food theme kid get-togethers:
Collect your children’s friends and arrange small kid meet ups may once a month with some healthy food as a theme. Kids tend to bond with their peer group better, they learn from each other. So you can easily make them eat without much fuss and slowly they will come out of their food inhibitions.
Never prepare separate food items for your kid:
Avoid preparing a separate meal for your child after he or she rejects the original meal. This might promote picky eating. Encourage your child to stay at the table for the designated mealtime — even if he or she doesn’t eat. Keep serving your child healthy choices until they become familiar and start adjusting to it.
Have junk food dates:
Have a date with junk food for your kids. Make it a point to indulge them only on those days. Ignoring picky eating habits in children cannot solve the problem itself. It will lead to long-term eating issues in children. A food log can also help your child’s doctor determine any problems. In the meantime, remember that your child’s eating habits aren’t likely to change overnight — but the small steps you take each day can help promote a lifetime of healthy eating.