Is your child a picky eater? Or could it be a health concern?

Nearly every child has been a picky eater at some point. When is it a concern?

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Nearly every child has been a picky eater at some point. Sometimes kids are still developing their palates and are slow to embrace new tastes and textures. Other times, refusing food can be a way to assert their independence. But at what point is a child just a picky eater, and when is it a concern?

It’s important to check in with your child’s pediatrician about the child’s eating habits. A pediatrician can offer you advice as a parent on how to ensure your child is still getting proper nutrition and developing good eating habits.

“Picky eating usually isn’t a concern, and it’s common among toddlers and younger children. Usually, kids grow out of it by the time they are preteens. It becomes a concern when their picky eating is getting in the way of their healthy growth and development,” said Brittany K. Badal, M.D., adolescent medicine pediatrician with Norton Children’s Medical Group..

How to encourage a picky eater to try new foods

Be persistent. Sometime a child is picky about a certain type of food and then changes their mind. They may decide to eat the food they refused on a different day. Offer new foods along with foods they enjoy and are comfortable with eating.

Don’t force it. Do not shame or punish your child if they do not like to eat a certain food. Also, do not force them to “clean their plate” or sit at the table until they finish their food.

Power of choice. Kids like choices and having the ability to make decisions about what they eat. Provide a variety of options, such as a few fruits or vegetables. Ask them what sounds good. Even encouraging kids to go shopping and choose a new food to try together with the family may help them feel engaged and excited, according to Dr. Badal.

When is picky eating a concern?

While children can experience eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, there are other conditions that could explain exaggerated forms of picky eating, including feeding disorders. Autism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and depression also can cause changes in appetite or strong preferences with foods.

A newer, lesser-known eating disorder is called avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), which is associated with picky eating that a child doesn’t outgrow. It may include any of the following concerns:

  1. Your child is losing weight, has nutritional deficiencies or their growth has slowed down.
  2. Your child refuses to eat entire food groups. They may have preferences for a couple fruits, vegetables or meats, but if they outright refuse everything in an entire category, it could be a red flag.
  3. Your child consistently throws tantrums at mealtimes or has an excessive fear of eating. They may have a fear of vomiting or choking, especially if this has happened to them previously.

ARFID is not an eating disorder that involves preoccupation with body image; it is based mostly on rigid refusal of entire food groups or food textures, which interferes with a child’s ability to eat enough food.