Tackling the Challenge of the Picky Eater


Is there a picky eater in your family? Is each mealtime a battle that ends with your child only eating a few bites of food – or none at all? At 24/7 Pediatric Care Centers, we understand that some children start out or evolve into picky eaters. This situation may be very stressful for the whole family.

We’d like to offer some reassurance about your child’s nutrition, as well as some tips about how to manage a child who’s favorite word is “no” at mealtimes.

Causes for Picky Eating

Many factors figure into how an individual child perceives food. Although most children favor sweet tastes and dislike bitter, some children carry an extra gene that make them really hate bitter tastes. And for many children, most vegetables taste bitter.

Some studies have indicated that young children have more taste buds than adults. That means they taste a flavor more intensely than their parents or older siblings do. This explains why a food a parent finds delicious can be rejected outright by a toddler. Other studies have shown that food marketing has an effect, too. If children are presented with food in familiar packaging with a name brand (think McDonald’s), they will prefer that food over the same food in plain or no packaging.

Tips for Handling Picky Eating

  • Allow your child to choose at least one food for meals. Set a meal rule that each food on the plate must be tasted at least once.
  • Repeat exposure to foods. Some experts say that a food has to be introduced a dozen or more times before it is accepted.
  • Offer less accepted foods at the beginning of the meal. After that one bite, allow your child to move on to foods she prefers.
  • “Hide” less accepted food in sauces, such as broccoli in spaghetti sauce or zucchini in zucchini bread.
  • Avoid giving young children milk and juice between meals; offer water instead. Also limit calorie-loaded snacks between meals.
  • Make food fun and interesting. Serve food as if you’re serving tapas. For example, offer first a small plate with a small square of cheese and a few grapes. Remove that plate and offer a toasted cheese sandwich triangle. Remove that plate and then offer a few berries.
  • Give food inventive names. Call a few cauliflower florets “snowflakes” or cut-up meat as “building blocks.”
  • Be patient. Your children will eventually outgrow picky eating or will find a way to sustain themselves as they grow and are influenced by family, friends, schoolmates, and teachers about their own food preferences.

Are They Eating Enough? Ask the Doctor!

Whatever the cause of picky eating, the best gauge to determine if your children are receiving enough nutrition is through regular checkups at 24/7 Pediatric Care Centers. We routinely measure your child against standards for all children to learn whether his or her growth and development are proceeding at a normal pace. In most cases, even picky eaters meet those standards.

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24/7 Pediatric Care Centers are Jacksonville pediatricians, Jacksonville Beach pediatricians, and Fleming Island pediatricians providing care for children from newborn to 18 years. Our 24-hour office also provides services for non-life-threatening illnesses to registered patients 24 hours a day.

24/7 Pediatric Care Centers is not a substitute for Emergency or Trauma-related medical care.
If you feel your child is experiencing a life-threatening event, immediately call 911.