In my households today, grocery stores are a relatively simple affair, largely because there are not many things my 4-year-old will eat. He rotates through a couple of breakfast options (oatmeal, cereal, yogurt, pancakes if I make them) and basically the same five-ish foods want to be nicely divided into his green bento box for each lunch.
For dinner he is a little more open to different foods, but goes through phases where he will request the same meal, night after night, week after week, until he goes on to something else. He is even miserable about junk food. He eats a Cheeto, but no other chips. He likes chocolate and vanilla ice cream with rainbow varieties, thanks, but will rarely tolerate chocolate (or ice cream for that matter) in any other form.
He has been pretty much like this since we started introducing solid foods to him when he was 6 months old. When he came across a taste or texture he did not like, he would not just grab or spit it out; He would dramatically scrape it off the tongue and sharp at my husband or me with a mix of angry and little baby rage.
I'm probably thinking of him as a picky eater, but I am less aware of how he stacks up against other children his age ̵
I'm hardly alone. According to one study, half of the 2-year-old parents said their children were fussy. (What about this other 50%?!) Who are these unicorn kids ?!)
Here's what experts told me about all this.
What is fussy eating really?
A major challenge in addressing this issue is that there is no clear science-based standard that says whether your child is eating less than a certain number of foods – or participating in XYZ behavior in the XYZ age – he or she is a picky ether or selective ether, according to Dr. Stephanie Lee, Senior Director of ADHD and Behavior Disorders Center with Child Mind Institute.
"When a family comes in [with concerns about selective eating] I typically start asking: & # 39; eat your child some different starches, a few different proteins, a few fruits, and a few vegetables?" Lee told HuffPost. "I would also like to know:" Is this problematic for your family? Can't you go to restaurants? Is your child unable to go to friends' houses? "
It is not atypical for parents to feel that they are making different meals for their children than themselves sometimes, but it can be a sign of problematic pickiness if it happens much more often," says Lee.
The subject of all this is tough, echoing Alisha Grogan, an authorized pediatric occupational therapist whose site Your Kids Table focuses on fussy and sensory problems, some parents say their baby is fussy if they don't like vegetables. other parents are a discerning child one who might eat five foods and gags if the wrong thing is set in front of them.
In Grogan's mind, an average picky eater can stick to about 25 or 30 foods they want Eat most of the time, but even that threshold is fluid (therefore she does not even use the term picky.) A complicating factor: The development of toddlers and preschool children will typically eat very well for just one meal or two, and then go completely out. k from the rails for the next four or five.
"I'm getting more worried about what I call" extreme "means eating," Grogan said. "I consider an extreme fussy eat to be a child who has less than 15 to 20 foods in their diet. And they usually have an emotional response when encouraged to eat something different."
What is the backwater?
It turns out that there is an evolutionary explanation for discerning eating – at least in part. Children have been programmed not to suffer from bitter-tasting foods as a source of survival to prevent them from eating dangerous things. "A piece of broccoli is completely different on a 2-year-old tongue," Grogan said.
But that's not the whole explanation with a long shot. Both nature and industry come into play. For example, research suggests that there may be a genetic component to the fuss. Mother's modeling plays an important role. (If your child sees you eating only the same few foods over and over again, he or she can follow.)
Control is another factor. Toddlers who are infamous jerks come to meal time, have so little control over their day to day. Refusing food is one of the few ways they can express their autonomy.
Then there is the attention element. "When the kids don't eat, they often get a lot of extra attention," Lee said. Even if that attention is negative, they can still have it. And getting it can help boost the selective eating behavior.
So when is pushing to eat a problem?
Both Lee and Grogan emphasize that parents who have concerns about their child's diet, changes in their weight or how they grow, should definitely go to a doctor with a doctor immediately. Feeding is complex and can be tied to medical and psychological problems.
"If you've already tried to treat it at home," Lee said, "and there seems to be a little more to it, talk to your child's pediatrician. Maybe you should talk to a nutritionist or a behavioral therapist about it. "
If your child's pediatrician is dismissive, but your gut tells you something more serious is going on, tap for a different opinion. Lee – as a psychologist focusing on the developmental and behavioral side of all this – says that more serious discerning elderly might struggle with ormotor problems or sensory problems. Research has also been associated with the cancerous eating anxiety and depression, although the relationship is not necessarily causal.
Again, the good news here is that serious problems are relatively rare. The same study that looked at fussy eating and anxiety and depression showed that approx. 20% of 2- to 5-year-olds participating were what the researchers called "selective eating", but only about. 3% was considered "severely selective."  And there is no magic age when everything should be resolved. A study from Holland in the Netherlands found that the crayfish ate the peak 3 years and fell (but not disappeared) after 6, but nothing was put in stone.
"There are no specific ages where we can say there have been changes in developmental appropriateness," Lee said. "If your child starts school and they can't get any of the other snacks the kids have, if they don't want to go to birthday party or on playdates because they fear there's nothing they can eat, then It is time to believe that perhaps something parents want to address. "
What Can Parents Do?
Unfortunately, there is not a science-based playbook on how to combat discerning dining, but the research is aware of what does work: Pressuring kids.
"We found that over a year of life in the toddlerhood, the weight remained stable on the growth chart, whether they were fierce or not," Julie Lumeng, director of the University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development and author of a study from 2018 on the effect of parental pressure on discerning eaters, said in a press release. "The kids also mean that they were not very changeable. It was the same whether the parents pressed their discerning eaters or not."
And "pushing" your child does not mean just shouting or forcing him or her to eat everything on the plate; It is often much more subtle than that. "I think it's pressure when we pray or ask or encourage them to eat," Grogan said.
Small feasibility studies suggest that there is a kind of magical flavor window, usually when the children are between 4 months and a year-ish, maximum, when perhaps more open to new foods and tastes. And it could influence their openness down the road. (Baby-led weaning, despite the fact that many parents greet it as the answer to promoting healthy weight and openness to new foods, does not have much research supporting it at this time.)
Repetition is another key. Although it does not trace back to a single study, pediatricians and experts often say that children should be introduced to a food 15 or more times before they are willing to actually eat it. Cooking with children can also help. At least one small study has found that it can increase children's openness to vegetables.
Fortunately, experts emphasize that, in most cases, fuss is not a major concern, health. Take my son (probably). He is well on the growth curves, he eats more than 30 foods, but not many more, and while he often freaks out when I ask him to try something new, it is not in a way I think it talk about a more serious underlying problem.
Lee suggests that parents like me spend some time clarifying what we find worrying about our children's eating and what our goals are. Do I want him to try more food? Does a whole meal sit at the table? When the parents are clearer, it's time to try out strategies as positive ways to introduce new foods or basic repetitions.
Grogan agrees that typical discerning dining is usually not a major lifelong problem, even though she has stories of the lasting impact it may have.
"I have certainly had some painfully sad comments from adults who leave messages on my site about how they want someone helped them," she said. "They want to eat other things and feel they can't." Lee echoes that the habits of the children develop when they are often young – again, it is often not always – continue when they get older.
You must have your chicken fingers with a side of kohlrabi tonight, baby!