Picky Eating May Be Inherited From Parents (page 2)
You spent an hour whipping up a feast you're convinced your little one will love, only to have the meal met with a stuck-out tongue and a tantrum. Wondering why even the most appealing offerings get the thumbs-down from your little diner? It might have more to do with your genes than your culinary skills.
A new study shows that kids' tendencies to be finicky about food might actually be inherited — so if you or your child's other parent were picky, your little one might be, too. Looking at the eating habits of 5,390 pairs of 8- to 11-year-old twins, researchers found that 78% of cases of food neophobia (the fear of new foods) were genetic and 22% were linked to environmental factors that the twins didn’t share.
Eating (or not eating) is often how young kids — and, sometimes, older ones — express that they're becoming increasingly independent big kids with their own tastes and opinions. "Food jags" — when kids will only eat certain things and reject most others — are a common, albeit aggravating part of early childhood.
What This Means to You
Sure, you may want to throw in the dishtowel every time your toddler hurls the peas on the floor or your preschooler sticks a nose up at the pork chops. But you can't let their persnickety palates rule the roost. To help make kids more open-minded about what they put in their mouths:
- Set and stick to a daily meal and snack time schedule. Young children usually need three meals and two or three nutritious snacks a day.
- Buy and serve nutritious fare. Stock your kitchen with foods you'd actually want them to eat.
- Reel in the junk food, but don't ban it altogether. If you completely forbid certain foods, kids are much more likely to want them even more. So, it’s OK to allow some special treats every once in a while.
- Don't cook special meals just for picky eaters. Serve the same thing for the whole family, but include new choices alongside something you know your kids like.
- Let them feel like they have a choice. That doesn't mean letting them pick out their snacks or meals. It means presenting them with healthy options, then allowing them to decide whether to eat, what to eat on their plates, and how much to eat.
- Don't expect kids to be "clean-platers." Let children recognize their own internal cues that tell them when they’re hungry and when they're full.
- Encourage trying at least one bite of different nutritious foods at each meal, but don't negotiate for bites or use dessert as a reward. If you tell kids they can have a cookie if they eat their spinach, that only makes the treat seem that much more appealing than the veggies. Plus, it creates mealtime tension and sets the stage for a power struggle.
- Be persistent. It may take a while for little eaters to accept new tastes and textures — you may have to present a food up to 15 times before they'll try it.
- Involve the kids. Look for recipes with ingredients your children like, and invite them to join you to shop for, cook, and serve the food.
- Say no to soda and too much juice (no more than 4 to 6 ounces of juice per day for preschoolers). Water and milk are the only beverages kids really need. But avoid serving any drink right before meals that might spoil their appetite.
- Serve smaller portions, which are less overwhelming for kids. Plus, bigger portions may encourage overeating.
- Create positive peer pressure. Look for opportunities for kids to eat healthy with friends (at home, playgroups, or school).
- Set a good example. Sit down for family meals together and make sure your kids see you enjoying the same wholesome foods you're expecting them to eat.
If your picky eater opts not to eat anything at all, don't make a big deal about it. Simply offer nutritious choices again at the next scheduled meal or snack. But if your child is regularly skipping meals and snacks or you're worried that your little one isn't getting enough calories or nutrients, talk to your doctor.
Luckily, although lots of tots are picky eaters at some point, with time and plenty of patience, this often-frustrating phase too shall pass.
Source: "Genetic and Environmental Influences on Children's Food Neophobia," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, August 2007.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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