Why is My Kid So Picky?

It is developmentally appropriate for children to go through a ‘picky’ eating stage when they are between 2-3 years old.  This is when kids are learning to assert control, learning to express their opinions more, and can go through stubborn phases.  They don’t call it the Terrible Two’s (or three’s) for nothing!   Some kids will continue to be more selective in their food choices for another 1-3 years.  Parents will tell me that their child used to be ‘such a good eater’ and all of a sudden, the child is very picky.   The best thing you can do when this starts is to be consistent with your rules and expectations, continue to expose your child to different foods daily, and focus on keeping them involved in the food cycle (buying, cooking, eating, and cleaning up).  There are specific tips and suggestions for dealing with picky eaters under the link, “Tips for Picky Eaters”.   Just remember that you are not alone, and many kids go through this stage as part of their normal development.  Hopefully, this phase will be temporary and it will pass sooner than later.   

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Does your child take medication for any conditions?  We all know that medications have side effects.  Some medications can inadvertently suppress appetite, increase risk of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or cause cramping in the belly.  If you’re noticing changes in your child’s eating habits and they are taking a new medication, discuss these concerns with your pediatrician or your prescribing physician as soon as possible. 

 why picky image 3Stress hormones shut down hunger.  If your child is stressed or anxious for some reason, they may exhibit reduced hunger. 



If your child had (or continues to have) reflux, it can significantly impact their food intake and diet preferences.  It only takes one negative food experience to lead to an aversion.  Have you ever vomited after eating a particular food?  Did you go out and eat it right away and completely forget about what happened??  I know I did not eat applesauce for years after a bad vomiting experience with it…years!  I gagged every time I would try to eat it.  Now, imagine you are an infant or toddler who had either reflux for a period of time or vomited/spit-up more than a few times.  This could significantly affect his desire to eat certain foods.  Sometimes when kids are really young, they don’t know what food made them feel this way, so they relate the negative experience to what seems like random foods.  This is likely your child trying to control the situation and how they feel.  If I don’t eat that green bean, I won’t throw up or have a tummy ache.   Keep this in mind when thinking about your picky eater at home.  **Reflux has many causes and if you suspect that your child has reflux or any other gastrointestinal disorder, see a medical professional in your area as soon as possible.

dining tips pic1Do food allergies run in your family?  Perhaps your child has an undiagnosed allergy that is causing them to avoid certain foods.  Allergies are more common now and some children don’t exhibit clear-cut signs of an allergy at first.  Reflux and gastrointestinal distress (belly aches, diarrhea, bloating, constipation) can be a symptom of an intolerance or allergy in some people.  Swelling, rashes, and skin irritations like eczema can all be signs of a problem.  Food allergies, intolerances, and other conditions such as Celiac Disease can lead to food aversions, anxiety around food, and controlling behaviors similar to those discussed above.  If your child has a known allergy and has become pickier, keep in mind that this can cause a lot of anxiety for your child (and you).  Children can sense when we are anxious or worried, so be aware of your own feelings towards a newly identified allergy and how it could be impacting your child’s comfort around food.  If you suspect any allergies, intolerances or other genetic conditions, you should consult with a physician as soon as possible.  Testing can be done to rule out most conditions and allergies; with proper guidance, you can also do an elimination diet (Take a food out of the diet for 2-3 weeks, then re-introduce it and watch for changes along the way).    

Was your child born prematurely?  Some children experience sensory overload in the NICU during their hospital stay.  They may also have a hard time learning to self-soothe.   If a child’s sensory system did not fully develop as a result of being born prematurely (before 38 weeks) or if they were in the hospital for a long period of time, it can sometimes lead to difficulties eating certain textures, temperatures, and flavors.  You would also likely see aversions to certain clothing/fabric textures, sounds, lights, crowds, and/or temperatures.  This is NOT the case for all children who were born prematurely.  If you suspect that your child has these types of picky eating habits – plus additional sensory based symptoms, you should consider seeking assistance from a professional such as an Occupational Therapist who is trained in sensory and feeding based therapies. 

why picky image 1Some children are picky from a very young age (as young as 8 months).  Parents in these situations often report that their child had difficulty transitioning from purees to solid/table foods, or when they are starting Stage 3 baby foods.  These types of feeding issues may be related to anything from oral motor weaknesses to a tongue-tie, or general difficulties chewing and swallowing.  If your child is picky during this particular transitional stage, you should consider discussing your concerns with your family’s pediatrician.