Picky Eaters: Tips for Tackling and Myths Debunked
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So your child has never eaten anything but noodles and cheese, yogurt, and white bread. Your relatives say she’s just stubborn. Your friends say that their kids were never this picky. In this article, we’ll debunk some of the myths surrounding picky eaters and explain various techniques you can use to expand your child’s list of accepted foods.
"Kids become picky because their parents let them be picky."
Status: Myth. Although a small percentage of children may become picky due to environmental factors, new research has shown that most pickiness is genetic. This study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, looked at 5,390 sets of twins. It found that 78 percent of refusal to try new foods is genetic, and not due to environmental factors. What can this mean?
According to Abigail Natenshon, a psychotherapist specializing in eating dysfunction and disorders, scientists have recently begun to discover that vegetables, for example, can taste metallic to certain picky eaters. In some way, the child’s body biologically impacts the tastes of certain foods, making them unpalatable. What adults may see as stubbornness or defiance is most often a real biological phenomenon. Picky eating may also be caused by a sensory integration issue, where the child has hypersensitivities to certain smells, tastes, and textures in their mouths. “The first thing for parents to know is that they’re not insane, they haven’t trumped this up, even when everyone around them says it’s not a problem,” explains Natenshon.
"My child’s pediatrician says she’s fine, so there’s nothing to worry about."
Status: Myth. When a parent brings a picky eating concern to the child’s pediatrician, the response is often something like, “Well, her weight is on the growth curve, so she must be fine. Wait a bit, and she’ll outgrow it.” Although this may be true occasionally, picky eating is not a stage for many children. According to Natenshon, doctors are trained to treat pathology, and because nothing appears to be wrong with the child physically, a pediatrician may completely ignore the problematic issues that can arise with a picky eater.
Dr. Julie Garden-Robinson, an Associate Professor and Food and Nutrition Specialist at North Dakota State University, points out one example of these issues. “Nutritionally, if your child is not eating a wide variety of foods from all the food groups, you may want to add a vitamin/mineral supplement to his or her daily routine as a bit of nutrition insurance,” says Garden-Robinson. “However, dietary supplements are not a substitute for a healthful diet, since food provides a wide range of nutrients that supplements do not include.”
"You can prevent a child from becoming a picky eater."
Status: Partial Myth. A child who is biologically inclined to become a picky eater will probably develop accordingly, no matter what his home environment looks like. At the same time, there are a few steps that parents can take to try to minimize the risks. Parents can offer children as many varied, nutritious foods as possible over the first few years of their life, preferably as early as possible. They should continue offering these foods even after they’ve been rejected multiple times. Research shows that it can take up to a dozen times for a rejected food to finally become accepted – and that’s still normal.
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