Before I had kids, I imaged a utopian experience at the dining table where my children would be begging for seconds of broccoli and would be disgusted by the thought of processed chicken nuggets. Then the kids came, and reality set in. I was way off. My kids love nuggets, but one of them won’t eat a vegetable unless it’s hidden, and if he even see’s green in the meal, he’ll suspect the whole meal is infiltrated with vegetables and the dinner time experience becomes more challenging. This personal experience in raising a picky eater forced me to open my eyes to the challenges many moms and dads face at mealtime. Here is what I learned.

Picky Eating Can Lead to Other Mental Disorders

Research has shown that picky eating (sometimes referred to as “selective eating”) is quite common in adolescence, impacting about 40% of preschoolers. However, when it becomes more rigid, picky eating can lead to more serious complications, like being underweight or obese. It can also increase the risk of psychological disorders later on in life. A study out of Duke University Medical Center indicated that moderate to severe picky eating was associated with an increased risk of depression and social anxiety. Although a 2008 study did not label general picky eating as an official eating disorder, a much more severe form referred to as Avoidant-Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) is however considered an official mental health condition.

Labeling Your Child as “Picky” May Hurt Your Chances of Changing the Behavior

A 2014 study found that kids from parents who labeled them as “picky” had significantly different behaviors around mealtime and food than kids from parents who did not use this label.

Don’t Reward Your Child with an Unhealthy Option

I made the mistake of offering my child something he liked (like ice cream) if he would eat something he did not like (like spinach). Research shows, however, that this behavior can further increase negative feelings about the healthy food further in life. Though tempting, avoid the use of dangling a sugary and processed food as a reward. It may only foster the “good” vs. “bad” perception about certain food.

 

Show Your Child What Healthy Eating Looks Like

Your children are always watching. If you are always dieting, discussing your weight in a negative way or discussing foods you refuse to eat, it may trickle down to your children. A 2016 study found that the diet of the parent was the largest predictor of how the child would eat.

Don’t Give Up

Many of my patients have told me that they had times of just giving up. Mealtime was so exhausting, and their child was in so much distress. One study showed that repetition could, in fact, help to foster better behaviors. The study also indicated that repetition and exposure of healthy foods very early on in life could help to reduce the picky behavior. Don’t give up. Keep trying, over and over again.

Making mealtime a positive one can be difficult when faced with a picky eater. Keep an eye on your little one for more severe behavior, and discuss your concerns with your pediatrician or dietitian.

Help for Eating Disorders

At The Meadows Ranch, we strive to teach women and girls aged 8-17 how to have a healthy relationship with food and their bodies. Our staff strives to support each patient in learning to live in peace with food and with themselves. We find that a solid foundation in recovery is possible using the multitude of resources made available to those who seek treatment at The Meadows Ranch.

If you or a loved one is struggling with anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, please feel free to give us a call at 866-239-7381 or send us a message online. Our intake specialists talk to people every day who are in various stages of eating disorders and are happy to answer any questions you may have.

About the Author

Kristin Kirkpatrick is a diet and nutrition expert and best selling author of Skinny Liver: A Proven Program to Prevent and Reverse the New Silent Epidemic—Fatty Liver Disease.