If you have a picky eater at home, you are not alone! In fact, it is estimated that 20-50% of children, especially toddlers & preschoolers, are selective eaters. This percentage is even higher for children who are neurodivergent, such as children with autism or ADHD. While picky eating can be a very normal phase of a child’s life, it does not mean that it is not a worrying, frustrating, or even exhausting stage of life for many parents.
I believe that in order to figure out how to fix something, you need to figure out why it is occurring in the first place. When it comes to picky eating, there are several reasons why kids become selective eaters. It could be that just as your child may start to love the word ‘no,’ they may also learn how to refuse the foods you offer. This is often children’s way of declaring their independence and establishing some control in their lives.
Children can also become picky eaters if they have not been exposed to a variety of different foods. Sometimes this occurs because mom and dad themselves are picky or because the children’s parents only serve them foods the children already like, not knowing it takes time for children to accept new foods.
Typically, it takes children 15-20 times of being exposed to a food before they are willing to try it and another 15-20 times before they learn to like it. That is a lot of food exposures! This is especially true for fruits and vegetables because they are typically different each time your child takes a bite. One blueberry may be firm while another is soft. One blueberry may be sweet while another is tart. This makes it hard for children to know what to expect, which in turn makes it hard for them to try it and, eventually, to like it.
Kerry Jones, MPH, RDN, LDN is a Registered Dietitian with a Master’s degree in Public Health who is passionate about helping growing families navigate life and achieve all of their milestones along the way. She works with women who are trying to conceive, pregnant, breastfeeding, or postpartum and children to help manage medical conditions, tackle picky eating, and establish a good family relationship with food. With an overload of nutrition information available, Kerry understands how difficult it can be to know which foods are best for you and your family. She loves being a trusted nutrition resource for growing families. Kerry owns a private practice called Milestones Pediatric and Maternal Nutrition.
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