When we think of picky eaters, we often think of children, and rightfully so:
· Children are most likely to be picky eaters from ages 2-6.
· As of 2016, the estimated number of children classified as picky eaters ranged from 20-60%
· For approximately 3-5% of children, picky eating can turn into Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) or other eating disorders.
Children who are picky eaters often grow up to be picky eaters as adults, although there is no consensus on the extent of adult picky eaters. Situations may range from casual avoidance of certain foods, to anxiety, to malnourishment, or to eating disorders.
Picky Eating & the Six Principles
Picky eating affects each of the six principles of positive food experiences.
There are usually only a handful of foods that picky eaters will eat. Their culinary skills are limited, and they spend a minimal amount of time in the kitchen. Some picky eaters are particular about having foods touching. Because of their limitations, picky eaters may have nutritional deficiencies that lead to health problems.
Social influence is often at the heart of picky eating. A picky eater may have grown up in a home where eating and mealtimes were stressful situations. There may have been pressure to eat everything on their plate. The parent themselves may have also been picky eaters. There may have been limited encouragement to make healthy food choices.
Picky eaters often feel insecure in social eating situations. They may prefer to eat by themselves to avoid having others see their eating habits. Picky eaters may refuse invitations to family gatherings, business meetings, or other social occasions where food is served.
Picky eaters may prefer staying in their culinary comfort zone. They hesitate to try new foods or ways of cooking. Eating becomes a necessity rather than a joy.
Picky eaters often have issues with the taste and texture of foods. If they don’t spend much time preparing food, they are not interacting with the food as much as they could be. They may not effectively use their five senses to gather and process food information. That essentially translates into a lack of understanding about food, and can often keep the picky cycle going.
Motivation to try new foods or different ways of preparing familiar foods is generally low. The learning light is generally turned off. Picky eaters may simply want to get eating over with and get on with their day.
Some choose to place blame on family members, the food industry, anxiety, or other factors for the picky eater’s situation. Regardless of the origin of the problem, there is a way back to healthy eating and positive food experiences. Turning a potentially negative situation into a positive one is the key!
Be Positively Picky!
Being a positively picky eater is someone who is selective about what they put into their body from a positive perspective. It is someone who makes healthy food choices. When they are offered unhealthy food, they don’t want it. Many children who are picky often have the mentality that healthy food is bad. They limit themselves to a handful of questionable foods such as French fries, chicken nuggets, or candy.
You can be a picky eater in a healthy way. You can be a person who is very particular about what you eat. Some people won’t eat the cookies, or the French fries, or the dessert at the buffet table. They are picky about what they eat that is on the table. Some are picky about making sure they get their vegetables and other good stuff. They are picky about what they eat from a positive perspective.
How to Become a Positively Picky Eater
Be picky about what you put into your body. It’s okay to be picky, as long as you are picky in a healthy way. Look for the good stuff. Look for not only good recipes, but also healthy recipes. By considering some characteristics of picky eaters, you can use that information to your advantage.
1. Keep Stress at Bay
Easier said than done, right? Most of us may have plenty of reasons to be stressed – work, family, and other interactions. Often that stress affects the food choices we make. We reach for the quick carbs to satisfy our mood – fast food, chocolate, desserts, etc. When you are less stressed, you tend to think more rationally. You are more prone to wait until mealtime or other designated eating time. You are more likely to select healthier food choices.
2. Surround Yourself with Like-minded People
Be around people who eat healthy. Get ideas from them directly (talking with them) and indirectly (their example). This is often true in many areas of life. If you get around the right crowd – surrounding yourself with positive influences, you tend to adopt those habits.
3. Make Time to Learn About and Try a Variety of New Foods
Traditional picky eaters often limit themselves to only a handful of foods. They often “learn” about these foods from the media or from their friends. Being picky in the right way, you learn about new foods. Ask yourself, “What else could I pick?” “Are there more selections?” Do your food research. Learn information on a variety of food choices and topics.
4. Get Involved in Mealtime
Eating is not a spectator sport. Step into the kitchen and learn how to cook both your favorite foods and some new additions to your menu. As you increase your interaction with food, you come to better understand the food itself and the nutritional benefits thereof. You also build your self-confidence and lower your anxiety toward food and mealtime.
5. Throw a “Tantrum”
Talk to people about your positive food experiences. As you learn about food, cook new dishes, or overcome a previous dislike for certain foods, share your experiences. There are people around you who want to celebrate your successes with you. There may also be people who are struggling with similar issues. By sharing your experiences, you help to motivate yourself and others to be more selective eaters in healthy ways.
6. Set the Example.
Once you have attained positively picky eating status, teach others how to do so through your words and actions. A friend of mine has a son who was out at a social gathering. In talking to the party hosts afterward, my friend was pleasantly surprised when she learned her son refused the junk food served at the party in favor of a veggie tray. He became a positively picky eater based on the example from his parents.
Regardless of your circumstances, you can create positive food experiences. As you focus on the fundamentals, you can create great memories with food, and good habits to last a lifetime.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT: What steps can YOU take to be more selective about the foods you eat?