7 tips & tricks for picky eaters

This article, entitled "7 Tips & Tricks for Picky Eaters," comes from partner site BestFoodFacts.org.

Food is universal, bringing friends and family together across the globe. Stories are shared as dishes are passed around the dining room table and memories are made in the kitchen as generations cook and bake together. All of those scenarios have everyone enjoying the same food together. But what happens when you add a picky eater to the mix? Having to prepare a whole separate meal or go out of your way to cater to someone who is a picky eater can be very frustrating and time consuming for everyone involved. Our very own Sarah Downs, MBA, RDN, has some tips on how to get picky eaters to try new foods!

What is picky eating?

There is no scientific definition of picky eating, but typically it includes the avoidance or dislike of certain, and in some cases, many, types of foods. We often think of a picky eater as a young child, and it often is. However, picky eating can occur at any age and with many different types of behaviors. The spectrum of picky eating ranges from those who have sensory disorders to those who have neophobia, a fear of new foods.

A brief background on how food aversions may develop.

Picky eating can begin for a number of reasons. Some people are naturally more sensitive to taste, smell and texture. Others may develop picky eating habits by modeling their parents’ or others’ fussy eating habits. Finicky eating habits usually peak around the ages of two and three because children simply do not like new things. Often, picky eating habits can develop when food is used with punishment, bribes or rewards.

Can picky eating and food aversions impact health and nutrition?

Many parents stress about their picky eaters not getting enough nutrients and calories; however, unless your doctor tells you that your child isn’t growing at the normal rate for their age, there isn’t a huge concern. Research has shown that even if someone is only eating certain foods, they are usually getting adequate calories and nutrients.

But this isn’t always the case. Depending on the severity of the food aversions and the types of foods consumed, a nutrition deficiency can occur. Some diets that are limited in variety have low levels of vitamin D, calcium, zinc and iron. Parents and family members should check with their doctor or registered dietitian if they have concerns.

Is being a picky eater a type of eating disorder?

Depending on the severity and symptoms, some experts say yes. Many young children experience normal episodes of picky eating that they will typically grow out of. However, for those who continue to have food aversions and avoidance this can be categorized as a selective eating disorder (SED) or avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID). Individuals with this disorder avoid foods based on fear and anxiety. ARFID is often associated with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), or swallowing, oral-motor delay or gastrointestinal disorders.

Should adult picky eaters still introduce one new food at a time, like some parents do with infants, to see if they are allergic to the new food?

Yes. Not only will this make it easier to pinpoint a food that may cause a negative reaction, but it also makes it less overwhelming.

How many times should you try a food before saying you don’t like it?

Most experts say it can take at least 10 tries to accept a new food.

About the Author...
Best Food Facts
Best Food Facts gives you the opportunity to connect with food system experts around the country who have done the research, checked their work and want to share the results.

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