Help for Picky Eaters
The four most common reasons for children to be Picky Eaters are:
- Behavioral – they may be too busy and distracted to sit down for a meal and finish it
- Full Up – with juices or fizzy drinks or other “empty calories”
- Constipated – if the tummy (intestine) is full of feces, there is not much room left for food
- Lacking Nutrients – Low levels of Zinc, B12 or Iron which are all needed for a healthy appetite
Picky Eaters: Causes and Solutions
- Toddlers are Busy People
From about 2-3 years toddlers typically become more choosy about their food. This is a period when they do not grow quite as fast as during their first two years; they also discover their power of no and are generally quite busy – there are far too many things to discover and explore in the world to allow you time for sit down dinners!
Don’t despair – your child will most likely start to eat more variety again by the time she is four years old.
If your child is happy to graze and pick up food while distracted, he may need a little time to get used to regular meals.There is nothing wrong with grazing.
However, in the long run, it is desirable for children to take part in family meals.
Rather than forcing your child to sit still, you can make mealtime fun. Have your toddler in a comfortable high chair at the table or, if he is very wriggly, in your lap for as long as he is happy there.
Allow him to play with food and make the meal an interactive game and above all Relax! Don’t stress out if they are picky eaters!
Children pick up on your cues, and if you are having a good time at the dinner table tasting healthy foods, your child is more likely to enjoy being there and will sample those yummy foods as well. Over time he will sit at the family table for longer and longer and join in the fun and conversation!
- Fill Thier Tummies with the Best Food
Your child’s tummy is about the size of their fist. Visualize how small that is and think about how to fill that little pouch most efficiently with nutrients that allow your child to be energetic, grow and develop.
You can fill it with healthy sweet potato, broccoli, and beans or you could give your child a big glass of juice and – surprise surprise – she won’t be hungry for dinner!
Do not allow your child to fill up on fizzy drinks, juices, milk, hot chocolate or other high-calorie beverages.
Give them only water (with lemon or lime juice for a little taste) to drink, up to half an hour before a meal and again ½ hour after the meal. Ideally, children should not drink with meals, in order not to fill up the stomach with liquid and also to avoid diluting the digestive enzymes. A few sips of water are OK with a meal.
- Comfy Tummies will be Hungry Tummies
Picky Eaters often suffer from Constipation – a common problem in childhood. Signs of constipation are either passing daily bowel motion less than once daily or passing only small hard pellets.
The reasons are generally too little fiber and water in the diet. This is easy to correct by giving more water to drink (and nothing else, except breastmilk for those who are breastfeeding) and more vegetables, fruit, and whole grains.
Replace white rice with brown rice, white pasta with whole grain pasta. The plate should be filled half with vegetables, a quarter whole grains and a quarter of lean protein, which could be meat, fish or even better: non-constipating legumes (lentils, chickpeas, beans, or tempeh).
If your child is constipated, replace the meat with legumes several times a week.
For stubborn constipation add a serving of coconut kefir or a probiotic and if that does not help see your doctor!
- Getting enough Vital Nutrients for a Good Appetite
If your child has signs of nutritional deficiencies, ask your health practitioner for an assessment.
A pale face and low energy may indicate depleted iron or B12 levels
White spots on the fingernails, a low frustration tolerance, slow skin healing or recurrent infections may mean low levels of zinc.
If your child’s tests show low levels, your doctor can recommend foods to eat or a supplement. The child’s appetite should improve within 2-3 weeks of starting the supplements.
Foods high in iron: meat (but constipating), green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, nuts, legumes
Foods high in B12: eggs, meat, fish
Foods high in zinc: whole grains, oysters (not a favorite for kids!) – the soils in Australia and New Zealand are low in zinc. Children need more zinc during growth spurts, so if they show signs of a deficiency, they may need a supplement for a period (under the supervision of a health practitioner as you can overdose on zinc).
General Recommendations for Picky Eaters
- Have family meals and make them fun – do not cook a separate meal for your children.
- Do not allow your child to fill up on fizzy drinks or juice before a meal
- Feed your child a diet high in vegetables, whole grains and fruit to promote healthy digestion
- Make sure your child has optimal levels of zinc, iron, and B12, as these affect appetite.
Written by Dr. Leila Masson
For more in-depth information see Dr. Leila Masson’s book “Children’s Health A-Z,” (for orders in Australia) with useful advice on typical children’s health issues and practical tips how to get your child healthy quickly in the most natural way.