Have a Picky Eater?

The Lempert Report
July 13, 2020

Blame the parents.

That’s exactly what a new study, Trajectories of Picky Eating in Low Income US Children that was conducted over a 5-year period which followed both parents and children, found out.

Demanding that a child eat, or restricting food are associated with some of the pickiest eaters, according to the study.

"Eating is one of the few domains kids can exert some control over," said senior author Dr. Megan Pesch, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

In contrast - lower levels of picky eating in children were associated with parents imposing few restrictions on foods and a lack of pressure to eat.

Pesch added that the study did not find that a child grew out of his or her picky eating behavior within that five years.

Children were divided into levels of low, medium and high pickiness about food. About 15% of the children in the study fell into the "high" picky eater group, in which children didn't accept vegetables often or were highly nervous about new foods.

Nancy Zucker, a Duke University School of Medicine associate professor of psychiatry, and Sheryl Hughes, Baylor College of Medicine associate professor of pediatric nutrition wrote in an editorial on the study that "It is critical that caregivers let go of their need for a child to taste something and instead focus on accumulating pleasant experiences."

"Don't force kids to clean their plate," Pesch added. "Don't make them sit at the dinner table until they eat a certain amount of the food. And avoid bribing with food."

The best time to introduce new foods is when the baby begins solid foods at six months, the experts said, and then continue to offer a variety of foods throughout the formative years of toddlerhood.

As we have reported before, nutrition science research suggested kids may need up to 12 exposures — not eating, just exposures such as looking at it or helping prepare it — to say they "like" a food. Interrupt that with a negative experience, and they may prematurely put the food into the "don't like" bucket.

Giving up the power struggle over food may actually cut your child's picky eating behavior.