Causes of Picky Eating

Just like adults, children have their favorite food. Whether it’s bread and jam or a homemade pasta recipe, your child will develop a preference. But even though your little ones can eat what they enjoy, you should still monitor what they consume. 

Over the years, your child may develop specific eating habits and food choices that may not be good for their health. While letting them indulge from time to time is acceptable, taking their diet lightly can take a toll on their overall wellness.

To prevent mealtime from becoming a struggle, you need to know why children become picky eaters and what you can do to help them get out of it.

MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: The information included in this material is for informational purposes only. Always seek medical advice for any concerns about health and nutrition.


What causes picky eating?

Understanding the common causes of picky eating is vital for parents. These causes can generally be classified into five categories and provide insights into the factors contributing to selective eating habits.

Parents must be aware that, in certain cases, medical issues may be at the core of a child refusing to eat certain foods. If there's suspicion of such issues, consulting with a doctor is advisable. Later in this article, we'll delve into the medical aspects of picky eating, providing more detailed information for concerned parents. 

Here are the common causes of picky eating:

1. High sugar consumption

Excessive artificial sugar consumption is the easiest way to turn your child into a picky eater. Sweetened juice, cookies, candies, and other similar snacks too often will condition their preference for sweets, affecting their appetite during mealtimes. Setting the necessary limits will help you solve this issue while keeping other health complications at bay.

2. Incorrectly prepared food

Before you start setting the table, double-check the meal you’re preparing. Whether it’s spoiled or raw, serving incorrectly prepared food can be very unpleasant for your child. 

Always keep in mind that children tend to associate meals with experiences. If they eat a poorly made version of a particular dish, they may remember the bad taste or experience, discouraging them from eating that food again.

3. Inconsistent mealtimes

One way to keep your children’s appetite consistent is to stick to a routine. Serving food at erratic intervals will cause irregularities in their hunger levels, causing them to snack excessively.

Since they don’t know when the right mealtimes are, they may snack right before you serve lunch or dinner. Setting a definite schedule for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is the easy fix for this.

4. Power struggle

If your child rejects the meal you serve, don’t pressure them to eat it. Using your authority as a parent may send the wrong message, which can be consequential in several ways. Not only will they develop a negative association with a dish, but it may also affect their relationship with you.

Unfortunately, many parents may end up bribing their children with dessert or preparing another meal to convince them to eat—this practice rewards picky eating and may ultimately worsen the situation.

5. They have a genetic sensitivity to some foods

When it comes to food preference, genetics can also play a role. One study that examined children ages 5 to 10 found that those who were more sensitive to bitter-tasting compounds preferred sweeter food.

As you create a meal plan, consider that your child may not experience tastes the same way you do. Experimenting with different flavors and communicating with your child will help you find the right flavors for their taste buds.

Additionally, children's food preferences may change significantly over time. Your child may not like a particular flavor at a certain point in time and grow to like it later on. Do not hesitate to reintroduce certain ingredients and flavors at a later date, perhaps prepared slightly differently.

Signs of picky eating: When to worry

It's entirely normal for children to exhibit some degree of picky eating behavior during their early years. However, it's equally important for parents to be vigilant and recognize when these eating habits may indicate a more serious concern. 

  • Persistent refusal of entire food groups: A consistent rejection of entire food groups, such as fruits or vegetables can be a cause for concern as it can potentially lead to nutritional deficiencies.
  • Dramatic weight loss or stagnation: One of the more tangible signs of a problem with picky eating is a significant drop in your child's weight or a plateau in their growth. 
  • Emotional distress: If mealtimes are causing emotional distress, tantrums, or anxiety for your child, it may be a sign that their relationship with food is becoming problematic.
  • Gagging, spitting, or swallowing problems: If your child frequently experiences difficulty swallowing, gagging, or spitting when attempting new foods, this can be a sign of sensory or physical issues related to eating that should be addressed.

If you observe several of these indicators in your child's picky eating behavior, it's advisable to seek guidance from a healthcare professional. Remember, early intervention can make a significant difference in your child's overall health and well-being.

Tips for Parents of picky eaters

Here are some tips for parents of picky eaters:

  • Stay calm and patient: Dealing with a picky eater can be frustrating, but it's essential to remain calm and patient. Avoid turning mealtimes into a battleground, as this can make the situation worse.
  • Respect their preferences: Forcing them to eat foods they dislike can lead to negative associations with those foods. Try waiting for your child’s appetite to kick in. If they choose not to eat for lunch, there’s a high chance that they’ll be more engaged with the meal you’ve prepared for dinner.
  • Set a positive example: Children often mimic the behavior of their parents. If they see you enjoying a variety of foods, they are more likely to be open to trying them as well.
  • Offer a variety of foods: Try to introduce a wide range of foods from different food groups. Include fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains in their diet. This exposure can help broaden their palate over time.
  • Provide nutrition with less sugar. Don’t forget to check your chosen powdered milk drink and make sure you are providing nutrition with less sugar. Choose one that is free from added artificial sugars.
  • Stick to a routine: Try to establish a consistent mealtime routine. Children often feel more secure when they know when to expect meals.
  • Make meals enjoyable: Create a pleasant and relaxed mealtime environment. Avoid distractions like screens and focus on enjoying the meal together as a family.
  • Consult a professional: If you're concerned about your child's nutrition or picky eating habits, consider consulting a pediatrician, registered dietitian, or a feeding specialist for guidance and support.

Remember that picky eating is a common phase for many children and often improves over time. However, if you have concerns about your child's growth, health, or the severity of their picky eating, seeking professional guidance is advisable to ensure they are getting the necessary nutrients for their development.

Frequently asked questions on picky eating:

What causes picky eating in children?

Picky eating in children can arise from factors such as (1) excessive sugar consumption, conditioning a preference for sweets, and impacting appetite. (2) Incorrectly prepared food and (3) inconsistent mealtimes may create aversions and disrupt hunger levels, while (4) power struggles during meals can lead to negative associations with specific foods. Additionally, (5) genetic sensitivity, like a preference for sweetness, can contribute to picky eating, highlighting the importance of understanding and accommodating a child's unique taste preferences.

What are the consequences of being a picky eater?

Over time, the consequences of being a picky eater may manifest in the development of unhealthy eating habits and food preferences that could negatively impact a child's overall health. The limited variety in their diet may lead to nutritional deficiencies, affecting essential growth and development. Addressing and diversifying their diet early on can help mitigate these consequences.

How to make picky toddlers eat?

To encourage picky toddlers to eat, it's important for parents to stay calm and patient during mealtimes, avoiding turning them into confrontations. Respect their preferences and wait for their appetite to naturally kick in; pressuring them to eat foods they dislike may create negative associations. Setting a positive example by enjoying a variety of foods yourself, offering a diverse range of options, and establishing a consistent mealtime routine can contribute to creating a positive and encouraging environment for your child's eating habits.

How to stop picky eating?

Consult with a doctor to rule out any underlying health issues contributing to picky eating. Once medical concerns are addressed, continue to encourage a varied diet, create a positive mealtime environment, and involve the child in meal preparation to cultivate a more adventurous approach to food.

Help Your Kids Grow Strong and Healthy

Helping your child grow strong and healthy is a top priority. As they develop their meal preferences, watching over what they consume and building the necessary habits will allow you to secure their short- and long-term wellness.

With this article as a guide, it should be much easier for you to make mealtimes more pleasant for the child. If you’re planning to switch up their diet, choosing better options is a must. As the No. 1 Milk Formula Brand in Europe, choosing HiPP Organic can provide solutions for nutrition gaps without added artificial sugars. Visit our  online store today.


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‌[5] (2019). 10 Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters. [online] Available at:

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