“You can only stand up from your chair if you finish your broccoli!”
“Please, please, please eat the carrots! You used to love them.”
You’ve tried threats, pleading, bribing, and pleading again but all seem futile.
Mealtime becomes tension-filled for both you and the kiddo, where frustration levels increase much to everyone’s dismay.
The question is: “What’s the best way to handle picky eaters?”
Is it to hide vegetables in their food?
Nope — and here’s why you shouldn’t.
Wait, how can I relax when my child treats fruits and vegetables as if they were poison?
Don’t worry, I haven’t lost my mind. But once you’re through with this post, you’ll see how you can relax and maybe even laugh at your situation.
I. Why kids are picky eaters — thank you, mother nature
1. It’s in the genes
Is it possible that your kiddo refuses to eat cabbage because of you? A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests the answer is yes. If you rejected some fruits and vegetables as a child, you may see history repeat itself.
The study set out to quantify how genetics and environmental factors influence food neophobia, which is defined as fear of trying out new food.
Dr. Cooke and her colleagues found that 78% is genetic, while 22% is environmental.
2. It’s the age
According to Ask Dr. Sears, here’s why kids go on a “strike” from eating healthy food:
An infant experiences rapid growth within the first year of life, but when she gets to ages 1 to 3, her growth rate slows down. What this means is that she now requires fewer calories, believe it or not. So the first thing tossed out of the menu is… you guessed it! Veggies.
Also, a post from The New York Times says that a toddler’s diverse palette, receptive to an assortment of fruits and vegetables, ends at 2 years of age. The good news is that the picky eating stage disappears right about when children are 4 – 5 years old.
But why do toddlers shun the healthy stuff all of a sudden? The answer will be partly explained in items 3 and 4.
You’re probably thinking: Why on Earth would kids be wired to be picky?
Well, it’s for their own safety.
Remember Dr. Cooke who incidentally is a specialist in the development of children’s eating habits?
She told Live Science that toddlers during the cave days were kept safe from their natural inquisitiveness…
As soon as toddlers begin to walk and start putting things in their mouth, they are in danger of swallowing poisonous items.
Thanks to the evolutionary response of picky eating, curious cave toddlers were safer.
4. It’s because of their size
According to an article by Dr. Gwen Dewar, a behavioral ecologist, kids may be wired to reach out for high energy foods because of their small frame. Let me explain.
Small bodies lose heat faster and have smaller digestive tracts. Add being active to the mix and it make sense why kids prefer sweets over green leafy vegetables.
But we’re not done.
II. Why kids are picky eaters — thank you, mom and dad
As the subheading suggests, you may want to look into your parenting style.
Disclaimer: This portion isn’t intended to blame anyone. Instead, it aims to bring awareness on how parenting can lead to picky eaters.
6. Pressuring kids to eat fruits and veggies
An article from MSNBC’s Today Health writes that a study has found this: parents who pressure kids to eat are more likely to have picky eaters.
Is it a form of rebellion? Perhaps.
But do note that there is a difference between forcing kids to finish a plate of okra – either within a time limit or outside one – and encouraging them to try new food.
The study refers to the former, which is why it’s best to trust your child’s self-regulation. Allow her stop eating when she says she’s full. And when she doesn’t feel like eating, don’t force her to.
7. Unwittingly teaching kids to turn to food
A post from Psychology Today cites several research that suggest this: When parents use food to soothe children – after a fall or for being sad or upset – it teaches the latter to use food to calm down.
It makes sense that this may sabotage efforts made on teaching healthy eating. It also won’t be surprising that these kids may refuse fruits and vegetables since they view food as an emotional tool, instead of a nutritional one.
Now, how can these 7 reasons help me, you ask?
Well for one, in knowing that nature – genetical, developmental and ecological factors - is a force working to fuel your picky eater, you’ll be less critical of your child’s eating habits, and yourself as a parent.
As far as parenting style’s impact on picky eating goes, being aware of what actions to avoid can help decrease mealtime arguments.
The truth is, kids eventually outgrow pickiness. The trick is to ride the wave, be patient and just offer as much healthy food as you can. Without forcing the issue.
So relax, relax and relax.