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“Picky eater” is the Anglo-Saxon term given to children who are picky or selective eaters and is related to an alteration of eating behavior that is generally mild, transient and not related to a nutritional compromise.

It is important to identify the presence of alarm symptoms to consult and rule out organic causes that usually only correspond to a small percentage of cases.

 

How can you identify if a child is a picky eater?

 

Although this is a joint task between the parents and the pediatrician who is attending the child, there is a way to identify this type of behavior:

Prefers one food over another.

Refuses specific foods such as vegetables or certain food groups and prefers others with sugar and flour.

Refuses or is afraid to try new foods.

Eats a limited number of foods.

Is clear about food likes and dislikes.

Seeks excuses to interrupt meal times.

Eats very slowly.

If the child meets some or all of these characteristics and is between the ages of 2 to 5 years, it may be a fussy child who has an alteration in the behavior but usually is not related to nutritional disorders, this means that he has a limited intake but its growth is normal and healthy; another different thing is if the child has some underlying pathology that explains this poor eating behavior, in that case it is extremely important to visit the doctor.

What factors influence a child to be a picky eater?

There are multiple factors that favor this behavior, some of them can be:

Generic factors: due to alterations in the taste chemoreceptors.

Maternal factors: if the mother has a restrictive diet during pregnancy or breastfeeding, it is more likely that when exposing the child to complementary feeding, he/she is not familiar with the taste of food and rejection is generated.

Bad eating behaviors on the part of the parents: if the parents eat poorly, it is very likely that the child will also do so, since children learn by imitation.

Emotional factors: if at the time of eating the child feels distressed by scolding, anxiety or complaints, it will generate a negative feeling or experience in relation to food.

Distractors at mealtime: the use of screens, cell phones or toys make the child easily lose attention.

Sensory relationships with food: not allowing the child to touch, smell or taste the food or cleaning it excessively, can generate alterations that lead to the rejection of food.

Limitations in the variety of food groups given to the child, at the beginning stage of complementary feeding.

The behavior of parents at mealtimes: excessively controlling, forcing the child to eat, permissive with very long mealtimes, excessively concerned about cleanliness throughout the meal, favoring negative associative learning related to these negative experiences.

 

Can this behavior harm the child’s health?

Something important to highlight is that the perception that a child does not eat, many times can be wrong, because we interpret or make assumptions regarding feeding.

We take for granted that a child’s food portions should be equal to those of an adult, and this does not correspond to the size of the child’s stomach, normally a portion of protein should be the size of the palm of the hand and carbohydrate, the size of the child’s foot.

Only 5 to 15% of children who do not eat well, if they can have an eating behavior disorder that compromises nutritionally, and of this percentage a smaller group have a disease that justifies an alteration in behavior.

 

When to consult a pediatrician?

Frequent vomiting

Failure to gain weight and height

Alteration in neurological development

Recurrent abdominal pain

Pain when passing solid foods

Persistent or frequent diarrhea

 

When these symptoms are present and the child is taken to the pediatrician, the following will be evaluated: the child’s history, how was the gestation, if the child had episodes of choking, intubations or use of tubes through the mouth, how complementary feeding was initiated, etc., all with the purpose of looking at the child’s health status.

This is of utmost importance because it is also necessary to check if the child has complaints when passing food, if he/she has recurrent vomiting, if he/she has compromises with weight and height gain, and neurodevelopment.

 

In order to help identify if picky behaviors in children are just a matter of habit, or if their health is really compromised.

 

Tips to prevent a child from being a picky eater

There are very simple techniques and tools that can be applied so that a child does not engage in this behavior:

From pregnancy and during breastfeeding it is important that the mother has a varied diet, high in protein and vitamins.

The start of complementary feeding should begin at 6 months, and during this stage include a variety of food groups.

Ensure the consumption of fruits and vegetables every day from the beginning of complementary feeding.

Expose the child several times to a food to see if he/she really likes it or not.

Prepare the food in different ways so that the food is sensorially attractive, with color, texture, smell and taste that is appealing to the child.

Keep in mind that the portions should be appropriate for the child, a portion of protein is the size of your palm, the carbohydrate should be the size of your fist, half of the plate should be vegetables or greens.

Avoid giving him soups or a lot of liquids at meals, it is better that he eats dry food first.

Try to make him eat legumes at least 2 to 3 times a week. This food group is a great source of protein, vitamins, zinc, iron and other nutrients.

Avoid all distractions at mealtimes.

Share at least one family meal a day, as it is important that the child learns to eat by imitating.

You choose what the child eats and at what times, not the other way around. What is important is to respect the signs of satiety, the child chooses how much to eat.

Keep feeding schedules, a child should eat 5 times a day (3 main meals and 1 or 2 snacks) avoid snacking all the time.

Do not lengthen meal times, a main meal should last between 30 to 40 minutes and snacks between 15 to 20 minutes.

Give liquids, especially water, about 15 to 30 minutes after the meal, this ensures that all the food is eaten and avoids filling up on liquids alone.

Try to remain calm, avoid being short-tempered or aggressive with the child at mealtime.

Allow your child to be independent at mealtimes, let him/her eat alone and help him/her when needed.

Do not tie mealtime to a reward system.

 

Paying attention to children’s mealtime behaviors can go a long way toward preventing illnesses later in life.

 

For special inquiries:        [email protected]