Picky Eaters

Your toddler pushes the bowl of porridge with barely traceable sightings of broccoli in it. He eyes the bowl of purple jelly on the kitchen counter instead. This has been happening religiously over the last few months and you are exasperated. Why is he such a picky eater?

Dealing with a picky eater

Dealing with a picky eater

You are not alone. Parents are facing this problem worldwide. The greens are always a kid’s enemy at meal time. Broccoli, brussels sprouts, celery and just about every other green looking vegetable, is bound to be turned away by Junior. Is it the colour green? Is it the taste? The list of food turned away does not end with the greens. It continues with fish, steamed chicken, fruits and almost every other food item that promises growth in a child.

A study done by Abbott on 214 mothers between 25 – 40 years of age and the results showed that 2 in 5 mothers said their children are picky eaters.

54.5% mothers curb the problem by coaxing the child to eat while 27% allow the child to eat whatever he likes. With such a problem affecting so many children, how do you gain control of the situation?

According to Anna Jacob, medical manager at Abbott Nutrition, monitor your child’s growth. Small steps should be taken consistently to change the eating habits. It is also important to understand the growth development according to age, gender and even family genes. Try to encourage your child to eat whole grain food rather than give in to his slightest whine.

Your first two children were not picky eaters and usually wolfed down everything set before them. But, your third child slouches in front of his plate and takes tiny bites. Dr. Benny Kerzner, Pediatric Gastroenterologist in Washington D.C, says it is important to note that siblings have different eating habits. If the problem gets terribly troubling, involve a gastroenterologist or a nutritionist.

Dr. Kerzner advises to have feeding principles and label them as ‘food rules’ during mealtimes. Dr. Kerzner’s suggested list of food rules include:

  • Avoid distraction
  • Neutral attitude – never get angry
  • Feed your child to encourage his appetite
  • Limit duration – remove the food when mealtime is over, regardless of how much has been eaten
  • Give age-appropriate food
  • Encourage independent feeding
  • Tolerate inappropriate mess – Avoid holding a  napkin and constantly wiping even the slightest mess

Parents of picky eaters usually develop anxiety and become stressed over whether their little one is receiving the right amount of vitamins when he is constantly pushing away his food and taking only small bites when forced. However there is a more pressing problem to worry about – the psychological effect of this.

Dr. Thomas Linscheid, Clinical Associate Professor of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, explains that neophobia can arise from this. Neophobia, an abnormal fear of anything new, can arise in a child when new food is introduced. Even a small amount of something new on the plate could bring about a bout of anxiety. However, when a parent does not push a child to eat the food, the anxiety goes away. If the parent demands the child to eat the new food, the child would tend to cry and scream with the child’s anxiety level skyrocketing until the parent removes the plate. Dr Linscheid also mentions that if the new food is a certain colour, e.g. green, then the phobia might tend to extend to all green coloured food.

However, Dr. Linscheid advises never to give in to your child’s screams and whines. Stay consistent. All children enjoy attention. If you were to continuously substitute your child’s regular meals for food items he likes, in fear that he might go hungry for not eating what is set before him, then you are merely creating a pattern here. He becomes aware that when he refuses, he is bound to get better food. When the whining or screaming begins, give your child and yourself a ‘time-out’. Tune it out until it stops. Do not set a time limit as your child would become aware that after a certain amount of time he gets your attention again.

Other Ways to help!

If your little picky eater’s mealtime havoc in your otherwise organised world is stressing you out, take a deep breath and try some of the ways listed below to get your little one eating!

  • Avoid feeding your child snacks – ‘in-between snacking’ has been known to spoil appetites
  • Start with small portions
  • Reflective eating – eat the same things as your child; show him that mummy or daddy is having broccoli because it’s cool adult food.
  • Fun; who said mealtimes have to be a drag? Form a face with pancakes, maple syrup and berries for breakfast!
  • Sneaky hiding – try chopping up the ‘hated’ food and hiding them in the food, for instance finely chopped cabbage in noodles
  • Serve at least one food you know your child likes at mealtimes
  • Get kids involved in food preparation – bring them to the supermarket, let them stir the soup, or assemble the dish!
  • Special mealtime – Set aside one mealtime on a certain day once a week, for instance Friday afternoon lunch when he gets to pick whatever he likes to have for that meal, be it caramelised apples or sugared cereal
  • Use familiar and well-liked food as a “bridge” to introduce new food
  • Use attractive, colourful cutlery and plates to serve the food
  • Cut/serve food in interesting shapes and arrange them attractively on plates
  • Have meals outdoors, even if it’s just the balcony or park
  • Never give up; research shows that parents may need to offer children new food at least 15 times before they accept it

Picky eating is a common problem; however, do seek help from a professional if you feel the problem is escalating beyond your control.

Here are some related links that you might like:

Dealing with picky eaters: Answers from 3 experts

Understanding picky eating in Singaporean kids

Change your kid’s picky eating habits


Serve at least one food you know your child likes at mealtimes

Get kids involved in food preparation

Take them to the supermarket or wet market to select the foods/ingredients that they like or select a new food for the family

Let your child help plan a meal/choose a food around his/her favourite foods

Use a familiar food as a ‘bridge’ to introduce an unfamiliar food

Use attractive, colourful kids cutlery and plates to serve foods

Make up funny names for your child’s favourite dishes e.g. “monster mash potatoes”, “Ah Meng’s banana delight”

Cut/serve food in interesting shapes and arrange it attractively on the plate

Encourage children to practice serving themselves

Have meals outdoors sometimes even if it is just at the balcony

Never give up. Research shows that a parent may have to offer a new food 15 times before the child readily accepts it!

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Written by

Miss Vanda

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