What causes ‘picky eating’
The first two years of life are a time of rapid physical growth in children. After two years of age, growth begins to slow and accordingly so does a child’s appetite; however, many parents view this as a cause for concern that their child is a poor or picky eater. In turn, they may try to bribe, coerce or force their child to eat more, which often causes a child to eat less.1 In reality, the majority of children consume adequate amounts to support healthy growth and development.
Furthermore, some parents and caregivers believe that a child’s height and weight must be at the fiftieth percentile for optimal health. This may cause parents and caregivers to restrict certain foods or pressure children to eat certain amount of foods that can negatively impact the child’s relationship with food. Healthcare providers can review healthy growth and development with parents and caregivers, focusing on the proper use of growth charts in relation to a child’s growth.
Toddlers and preschoolers also start to exert their independence and sense of autonomy, which includes choosing how much and which foods they want to eat, as well as wanting to self-feed. Their appetites vary considerably throughout the day, although their total daily energy intake remains fairly consistent.1 Again, parents and caregivers often view this as a form of picky eating, when in fact it is a normal part of growth and development. Healthcare providers should encourage parents and caregivers to respond to their child’s feeding and hunger cues and listen to their child’s body to help promote lifelong healthy eating habits.1
There are many reasons that a child may not eat: they aren’t hungry, they would rather play, they are trying to get a parent or caregiver’s attention, etc. These are all normal behaviours and do not mean that a child is at risk nutritionally. Children are very adept at regulating their energy intakes to match their energy requirements when allowed to follow their hunger and fullness cues.