Your seven month-old gobbles up everything you put in front of her. At 18 months she decides the only things she’ll eat are applesauce and crackers. What’s going on?!
Not all toddlers are picky eaters, but according to experts it’s a common, worldwide phenomenon. Picky eating may include favoring certain flavors (usually sweet) and/or rejecting new foods. Here’s a long list of possible reasons why so many toddlers shake their heads at mealtime:
Possible Reasons for Picky Eating in Toddlerhood
Genes — Some people are genetically inclined to reject certain flavors. In this case, pickiness is often seen in babyhood as well.
Biological Programming — Toddlers favoring sweet foods or rejecting new ones may be a built-in protection mechanism left over from the hunter-gatherer days. Back then, having a “sweet tooth” attracted them to energy-rich, easy-to-digest foods like fruit. Also, only eating familiar things kept children safe from ingesting something potentially toxic as they learned how to walk and feed themselves.
Less Hunger — During the first year of life, babies grow a ton and do it quickly. After age 1 their growth slows down, and so may their appetite.
Distraction — Toddlers are learning lots of new, fun skills, like walking, talking, and climbing stairs. This can lead to lots of wiggling and disinterest in eating at mealtime.
Desire for Familiarity — All those fun skills they’re learning also represent a time of intense change. With so much going on, toddlers may feel comforted by eating things that are familiar to them.
Desire for Independence — Toddlers can feed themselves, so it’s easier for them to choose what to eat than when you were in control of feeding them. They also love opportunities to say no, which they can do endlessly at mealtime.
Seeking Attention —Research suggests that children in families with high levels of dysfunction eat less, possibly because refusing food increases interaction with parents.
Rebelling — It can be tempting to bribe a picky toddler with dessert, or not allow him to leave the table until he’s eaten a certain amount of food. These tactics tend to backfire, though, making toddlers even pickier.
Copying Others — Modeling is a powerful tool in all areas of life, including mealtime! If mom, dad, or big sister wrinkle their noses and shake their heads when the broccoli is passed around, a toddler may do the same.
Sensory Processing Issues — Eating is a highly stimulating experience for little ones. Most children enjoy tasting food and feeling different textures, consistencies, and temperatures in their mouths. Children with sensory processing issues, however, may reject certain types of food simply because it feels overwhelming to eat them. If you suspect this may be the reason for your child’s pickiness, check in with your pediatrician or a pediatric feeding specialist.
Now that we’ve talked about why toddlers might be picky, let’s look at what you can do about it!