How Do You Keep a Picky Eater Healthy?

Do you have concerns about your child’s eating habits and not getting the best nutrition for growth and development? Perhaps your child won’t eat meals, avoids a certain food group such as vegetables, has a limited food repertoire or has difficulty eating certain foods?

What our wee ones will or won’t eat is a common cause of worry for many Kiwi parents. Not only is there considerable confusion about what to feed our children, and concerns about the lack of nutrients in our food we are providing, but there is also a growing number of children who are deemed picky. In fact, research indicates a massive 30% of New Zealand toddlers may be classified as fussy and missing out on important proteins, fruits and vegetables. These statistics are important, because establishing great food habits early on may help to avoid health problems as a teenager or adult.

So, how do you know if your child is fussy? What might be the consequences and what you can do?

Is your child a picky eater?

Picky eating is a common problem during childhood, with worldwide statistics indicating that between 8-50% of children may be affected and newly emerging research detailing possible long-term effects on our children's growth, development and health.
Picky eating is broadly characterised by the toddler or child eating a limited amount of food, restricting intake of some food groups, particularly vegetables, being unwilling to try new foods, and having strong food preferences often leading parents to provide their child with a meal different from the rest of the family. The impact on the family and child can be massive.
In 2017, research aimed to assess the health and nutrition and development of preschool picky vs none-picky eaters was carried out in Taiwan, where a whopping 54% of children are thought to be picky. The study results suggested the most common typical behaviours of a picky eater include: being unwilling to eat regular meals (18.5%); refusing food, particularly fruit and vegetables (16.7%); eating sweets or snacks instead of meals (14.8%); being unwilling to try new foods (14.2%); excessive drinking of milk (14.2%) and accepting only a few types of food (13.6%). The common dislike foods among these young kids were vegetables (38.9%), fruit (22.2%) and meat (37.1%).

Eat your greens, they're good for you!

Although this is only one study, reduced intakes of fruits and vegetables is a common finding in many research studies on picky eaters. Closer to home, New Zealand research found that fussy eaters ate fewer fruits and vegetables than non-picky eaters in a group of 4–8-year-old Kiwi kids.
Additionally, research published in 2016, implied that the intake of nutrients such as carotene, iron, and zinc intakes was lower in our picky eaters than in the non-picky eaters, with free sugar intake much higher than recommended. These nutrient differences were put down to lower intakes of meat, fish, vegetables, and fruits in the picky eaters.

How may this affect my baby or child’s health?

The Taiwanese study outlined earlier explored the development of these fussy eaters, based on answering a questionnaire about learning ability (attention and learning); verbal development (verbal development, language learning, confluence in speech); and interpersonal relationships (adaptation to new environments, cooperation, adaptation of being separated from relatives). Compared to the non-picky group, a significantly lower score of all measures was found in the picky group. Additionally, poor levels of physical activities were also significantly more common in picky eaters, as were constipation, and recent and/or more frequent acute infectious illnesses.
Whether picky eating behaviours are at all predictive of later eating problems may depend on how parents and caregivers respond to the behaviours.

What can you do?
There are many things you can try at home. For example:

  • My mantra is “my role as a caregiver is to offer healthy foods – their role is to eat it.” Always ensure you provide the most nutritious foods possible
  • Involve children in shopping and food preparation as this may increase their interest in eating
  • Ensure meals are taken in a relaxed setting and without distractions such as noise, stress or the TV blaring
  • Recognise that kids only need small portions. Piling up their plate is a sure way to put a fussy eat off their food
  • Introduce new foods slowly. A great tip is to put something familiar and something not so familiar on the plate to reduce anxiety levels
  • Seek help with both diet and behaviour. It would be worth checking out the advice given by the Ministry of Health, The New Zealand Nutrition Foundation or your registered Nutritionist, Dietitian or health care provider that specialises in childrens’ health.

How do I boost my child's vegetables and fruit intake?
Including a supplement in your child’s diet may support normal growth and development. The great news is that Added Mojo is a natural health supplement containing only organic fruit and vegetables, gently dried and powdered to retain their natural goodness. It provides 100% of your 12 recommended daily vitamins and six minerals from 10+ servings of fruit and vegetables, with no added synthetic ingredients, flavourings or fillers. Just perfect for kids (and adults too!) for supporting their health and wellbeing.

Shop Added Mojo on our secure online store.

Always read the label and use as directed. Vitamins and minerals are supplementary to and not a replacement for a balanced diet.
Good3 Ltd, Auckland, NZ. TAPS MR5831

Author: Sheena Hendon, registered nutritionist and naturopath.

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