Why can kids be picky eaters?

If a child’s first encounter with cooked peas results in the all the peas remaining on the plate, this doesn’t mean that peas should be permanently off the menu. Research shows that a child may need to be exposed to a food 10 times or more before accepting them. Parents also should not remove healthy foods, like broccoli or green beans, from a child’s diet because they themselves don’t like them. Children will often adapt to the foods made available to them.

Young children have more taste buds than adults, so foods can taste stronger to them. This can sometimes seem to narrow their food preferences. Parents may think, “My child only eats chicken nuggets and fries,” or “She hates vegetables.” Though it’s true that toddlers often demonstrate "picky eating," parents should not give up on encouraging them to try and accept new foods.

One way to help small children accept a varied diet is to eat a varied diet yourself. Research suggests that adults’ vegetable consumption should serve as a model for younger diners. That is, adults should load up their own plates with a variety of vegetables, and snack on items like carrot sticks and apple slices between meals, so that children will be more likely to follow suit. Children often mimic adults’ behaviors, including the unhealthy ones. A mom who only drinks diet soda for dinner, or a dad who insists that his 3-year-old eat asparagus but never puts it on his own plate, may send confusing messages. Involving children in the food shopping, menu selection, and preparation of meals is another way to encourage them to enjoy a variety of foods.
Mother & Daughter Cooking Vegetables
Mary Mullen
Nutrition & Dietetics
Being a picky eater can be a natural state for young children. They are born with an instinctive desire for sweet and salty foods, and an instinctive aversion to sour and bitter tastes. These instincts are a trait left over from our “caveman” days. Back then, the reflex to reject sour-bitter foods served as a survival mechanism so that youngsters wouldn’t wander off and nibble on poisonous plants and berries -- many of which are not sweet. Today, however, this reflex is one of the key reasons so many kids become picky eaters and shun fruits and vegetables. Luckily, kids can eventually overcome this tendency by being repeatedly exposed to foods they initially reject. Just be patient.
Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens

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Healthy Eating, Healthy Weight for Kids and Teens

In a world of fast food, supersized sodas, and televised temptations, this guide shows how to buck the obesity trend currently in the national spotlight—and have fun doing it. Using a family...
Sarah Worden
Nutrition & Dietetics
Parents often get upset that their children are picky eaters; however there is actually a physiological reason behind these picky eating habits. Children have a much more sensitive sense of taste than adults. As we grow older, we lose some taste buds in our mouths and those that remain become less sensitive. This can explain why as people grow older they may find that they have developed a taste for foods that, as a child, may have seemed too spicy, bitter, or sour. 

The best way to lessen a child's picky eating habits is to offer a variety of flavors and textures in his meals from the beginning. This will broaden the child's taste palate, making him or her less likely to be hypersensitive to strong flavored foods. It is important to remember that it may take a few times of offering a new food for the child to develop a taste for it. A good rule of thumb is to offer a new food 15 times to a child to allow for him to discover whether or not he has a taste for it. When dealing with a picky eater it is important to remember that constantly giving in to the child's picky eating habits, like giving him or her the bland, "kid friendly" foods such as, chicken nuggets or hot dogs, is the best way to promote these picky habits.
Cheryl Tallman
Nutrition & Dietetics
Parents tend to feed their babies and toddlers “kid food.” We all know what this is. It’s pizza, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, chips, etc. And we know this stuff is not healthy. So if it is just as easy to open a bag of baby carrots as it is a bag of chips, why are many parents reaching for chips over carrots? Many parents say it is because they have a “picky eater” and these are the only foods the child will eat.

What most parents don’t realize is that all toddlers are picky eaters. And it’s perfectly normal, even expected developmental behavior. It may surprise you to find out that this behavior has very little to do with the taste of food and is mostly about wanting control of a situation. Most toddlers learn very early that eating is very easy to control and it is likely to get a response out of you. This makes it fun (for your kid, not you)!

The big challenge for parents is not to give into this behavior, and don't fall into the trap of offering bland, unhealthy foods as a replacement for flavorful, healthy foods. This can be a difficult time.

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Healthy Eating For Children & Teens

Healthy Eating For Children & Teens

Nutrition is important for healthy child development. Encourage healthy eating by teaching your child or teen correct portion sizes, healthy snacks and the importance of the five food groups. Avoid giving your child food that is h...

igh in calories, saturated fats and added salt and sugar. Find out if your child needs vitamins or supplements. While some weight fluctuation is normal, it could point to an eating disorder ir your child becomes overweight or underweight. Involve your child in preparing healthy recipes for the whole family. Learn more about healthy eating and healthy living for your child with expert advice from Sharecare.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.