Why You Should Never Call Your Kids Picky Eaters

by Mary Sauer

For most of us, being required to finish everything on our plates before stepping away from the dinner table was part of childhood. While our parents were doing their best with the information they had, it is now clear that requiring kids to finish what is on their plates is not the best approach for developing healthy eating habits or a healthy relationships with their bodies and food. 

In addition to kicking this parenting-practice to the curb, mothers and fathers are also now encouraged to pay closer attention to how they talk about food in their house. One phrase experts are encouraging parents to strike from their vocabulary? Calling kids, “picky eaters”. 

If you need a little convincing before you stop using this phrase, here are four reasons you should never call your kids picky eaters.

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Labels Limit Children as They Develop

In general, it is best to avoid labeling your children at all. Young children are highly impressionable, and when we assign a titles like  “bad boy” or “picky eater,” they internalize and hold onto them. 

Labels can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy, advises dietitian Sally Kuzemchak. She elaborated to Parents.com by saying, “The picky label tells your child, ‘You're afraid of trying new foods’ and ‘We don't expect you to try new foods,’” she explains. “That wouldn't encourage me to branch out beyond chicken nuggets either.”

Appetite and Taste Changes Are Normal

From age one, parents can expect to see drastic variations in what and how much their children eat. Toddlers may develop fears of certain foods only to begin enjoying the same dish a few years later. Growth spurts may cause an increase in appetite, while hormones can affect taste. 

In general, unless a child’s health is suffering, parents should allow their anxiety to be eased by knowing that refusing to eat certain foods or eating very little at meal time is a developmentally normal behavior. It doesn’t actually mean your child will never eat vegetables or branch out to new foods. 

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An Authoritative Approach to Meal Time May Encourage Unhealthy Eating Habits

No parent wants their child to develop unhealthy eating habits. Because of this, parents may become overly concerned with what their child eats or how much they consume at any given meal. As it turns out, an authoritative approach to meal time may encourage unhealthy eating habits for the long term. Children parented with this approach are more likely to be obese if they are pressured to eat, or if food restriction is used in their home.

Instead of attempting to control what and how much our children eat, parents should gently educate them on healthy eating habits but allow them to regulate their own habits. This approach teaches children they can trust their bodies to tell them not only when they are hungry or full, but also what tastes and textures are enjoyable or not. 

Kids Can, and Will, Change Their Eating Habits

As parents, it is helpful to understand that difficult or trying seasons with young children are typically just a phase they will grow out of with time. This is definitely the case for selective eating habits. It is completely normal for toddlers and preschoolers to have strong preferences about what they will and won’t eat. It’s also normal for them to grow out of their selectiveness with time. Instead of becoming obsessed or frustrated with your child’s eating habits, consider backing off and giving them the freedom to explore new tastes and textures on their own time table. 

While giving up the phrase “picky eater” along with your attempts to control your child’s eating habits is important to their health and well-being, that doesn’t mean you should stop offering them a varied and healthy menu. Instead, experts suggest you continue to offer children healthy options at meal times. Parents should still be in charge of what ends up on their child’s plate as well as when they eat, just leave the rest to the kid. 

WATCH on Z Living: Birth Days, which chronicles the non-stop adventures of parents—and their newborns—as they spend their first six weeks together. See a sneak peek here.

Tell us in the comments: How do you deal with your picky-eater children?


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