Understanding Why Kids Are Picky Eaters

Understanding Why Kids Are Picky Eaters

We parents struggle quite a bit with the whole picky eating thing. It seems so universal among our kids, we might begin to wonder if picky eating isn’t somehow normal. Just how normal might surprise you.

Where does picky eating come from?

Imagine for a moment you are a mom in cave man days. All your food is hunted or gathered and there is no guidebook to tell you what plants are safe to eat and the hotline to poison control is ten thousand years in the future. Your toddler is running around, putting random things in his mouth. Some things don’t change with evolution!

As you might expect, the little ones with an aversion to bitter flavors — which often signal toxicity — and a fear of eating new things, or neophobia, might survive a bit better in this environment. Both of these traits are genetic thanks to those early survivors!

Another genetic trait, which dates back to these early days, is the attraction toward tastes that are salty, fatty and sweet. These preferences helped switch on the appetite for foods that our ancestors needed to meet their mineral and calorie needs in the lean diet days of hunter gatherers.

Fast-forward several thousand years. The Western diet, with its many processed options, is overloaded with fatty, salty and sweet foods. But, kids still have these basic genetic traits, some more so than others.

To complicate matters picky eating often peaks right about the same time as that favorite early childhood phrase, “Me do it!” Many times that tableside power struggle is all about control and nothing to do with food.

The truth is picky eating is just another normal phase of development. I know, it’s not much consolation when you are at your wits end and worried about your kid’s nutrition.

What’s a modern parent to do?

First, relax. The good news is that these genetic traits can be overcome in time simply by multiple exposures to healthy foods. And, by multiple, I mean up to 15 attempts sometimes just to get one trial. Or, about the same number of requests to get your child to pick up her toys!

The other good news? How you go about those exposures to healthy foods can make things a lot easier, too. In this week’s series, kindly brought to you by Dr. Greene, I’ll cover the best tips to get your kid eating better — without a struggle, without separate kids’ meals, without the food fight or the forced bites. Really.

Be sure to join this series of posts! What’s your biggest picky eater challenge at home? What concerns do you have with your kids’ eating habits?

Beth Bader

Beth Bader is the coauthor with Ali Benjamin of the acclaimed book, The Cleaner Plate Club, designed to help parents understand picky eating behaviors; where they originate, and how to deal with them creatively to get kids to eat better.

Note: This Perspectives Blog post is written by a guest blogger of DrGreene.com. The opinions expressed on this post do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Dr. Greene or DrGreene.com, and as such we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information supplied. View the license for this post.

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