Picky eating is common in toddlers. It is also referred to as fussy, faddy, and selective eating. Picky eaters can be characterized as having any of the following:
Strong food preference
Eating a limited variety of foods
Unwilling to try new tastes
Avoids certain textures
Doesn’t seem to enjoy their meal
Takes a long time to finish meals
Strong food preferences
Because picky eating can be difficult and frustrating, some parents may respond in not so healthy ways such as making separate meals, letting them choose foods they enjoy, or worst, letting them skip meals. These, however, do not solve the problem and may even encourage picky eating which can result in nutrient deficiencies which can weaken their immunity and lead to long term health consequences.
According to research, picky eating has nutritional roots. While many other factors such as developmental stage, power struggles and anxiety are often blamed for picky eating, research has shown that nutritional deficiencies as well as poor digestion may be the real culprits.
Here are the top nutrients, if lacking, can alter appetite and lead to a cycle of picky eating.
For healthy taste buds, zinc is essential. All foods may taste bland or unpleasant if zinc is deficit. Zinc is necessary for a strong immune system in addition to taste acuity.
Foods like red meat, fish, and seafood, whole grains, nuts, and seeds all contain zinc.
Iron is important for red blood cell formation and other important bodily functions. Low levels of iron can reduce appetite and lead to picky eating. Iron deficiency anemia, a result of long-term iron deficiency, can affect the immune system.
Iron is found mostly in red meat and green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin C is crucial for iron absorption in addition to being a strong antioxidant that boosts immunity. Not consuming Vitamin C-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables for 8-12 weeks can deplete the body’s stores of this vitamin.
In addition to these nutrients, poor digestion caused by imbalance of gut bacteria can affect food preferences and appetite. Picky eaters may struggle with digestive issues like constipation, which may further decrease their appetite. Therefore, enhancing gut health can help kids have a healthy appetite and like more nutrient-dense foods.
Parents can try these ExperTips for picky eaters from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, undated):
Try again: Wait a couple of days before offering the food again. It can take more than 10 times before you toddler might like it.
Mix it up: Mix new foods with foods you know your child likes.
Be silly: Make funny faces with the foods on your child’s plate. It might help your child get excited to eat it.
Me too: Try eating the food first to show your child you like it. Then, let your child try it.
Let us help our child avoid the trap of picky eating and weak immunity caused by nutrient deficiencies by giving them the best nourishment they need. With your love and total expert protection, you and your toddler can grow confident together.
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (undated). Picky eaters and what to do? https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/foods-and-drink…
Kutbi HA. (2021). Picky Eating in School-Aged Children: Sociodemographic Determinants and the Associations with Dietary Intake. Nutrients. 13(8):2518. doi: 10.3390/nu13082518.
Samuel TM, Musa-Veloso K, Ho M, Venditti C, Shahkhalili-Dulloo Y. (2018). A Narrative Review of Childhood Picky Eating and Its Relationship to Food Intakes, Nutritional Status, and Growth. Nutrients. 10(12):1992. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10121992
Sample, Jennifer. (2021). How to help a picky eater with fruits and vegetables. Reviewed by Dr. Patricia Pinto-Garcia. GoodRxHealth. https://www.goodrx.com/well-being/diet-nutrition/kids-picky-eaters-frui…
Sherman, Jess. (undated). What causes picky eating? https://www.jesssherman.com/blog/what-causes-picky-eating
Wolstenholme, H., Kelly, C., Hennessy, M. et al. (2020). Childhood fussy/picky eating behaviours: a systematic review and synthesis of qualitative studies. Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act 17 (2). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-019-0899-x