What creates a picky eater? Reminder: It’s most certainly not you!

Introduction: Did I create a picky eater?

If you’ve found yourself tipping yet another meal into the bin and wondering how on earth your child is still going on the 2 bites they’ve eaten all afternoon - you’ve probably pondered the eternal question - “Why has this happened? What caused my child to eat like this?”

The real question you might even avoid thinking about may be “did I create my child’s picky eating?”

We've all been down the rabbit hole of doubts, asking ourselves if it was down to introducing finger foods two weeks too late, giving them the taste of sugar before they turned two, trying too hard to introduce egg, or not giving enough time to eating together.

The gnawing guilt - we know it well! But chances are, your child’s eating is not due to that one scenario from the past that keeps playing on your mind.

Let’s put the guilt to rest by understanding the real reasons why fussy eating happens.

It’s not your parenting, and it’s not your child’s “bad behaviour”. There are genuine reasons why eating is tricky for lots of kids.

Your child’s body and medical history

So many parts of your child’s body need to be functioning well together for eating to go smoothly!

Think of all the things going on when you simply chew a mouthful and swallow, there are lots of medical and physiological factors can make eating tricky!

Digestive issues, allergies, constipation, stomach bugs and illnesses – these can shape your child's relationship with food.

Sometimes these things have a direct impact on eating, for instance a stomach bug may turn you off your food. Other times, illnesses, allergies or medical experiences lead children to develop negative associations with food and become more cautious or anxious around food in the future.

Individual differences

Just as each snowflake is unique, so is your child's personality and temperament.

Some kids embrace new tastes like adventurers exploring new lands, while others tread carefully with caution.

Anxiety might also be lingering backstage, influencing their eating journey. This could be food-specific anxiety, or a general tendency to be anxious about lots of things - school, friends, separating from parents, dogs, the dark…you name it!

Imagine being handed a plate of insects and told it's a delicacy – your child might feel something similar with new and unfamiliar foods.

It's not you or your cooking, it's just your child’s distinct way of experiencing the world.

How your child experiences sensory information

Now, let's dive into sensory processing. Everyone experiences the world a little differently.

Think about it - some people like the shower temperature turned up, others turn it down. Some add hot sauce to every meal, other’s can’t handle a sprinkle of pepper (Fin, one of the Sprout founders, is one such person).

It’s not just the five basic senses (smell, taste, sight, touch, sound) that influence children’s eating - but other senses such as their body awareness, balance, and internal sensations (such as hunger, emotions, tiredness) also play a part.

It’s your child’s unique way of interpreting all these senses that makes them who they are.

Wouldn’t the world be a boring place if we were all exactly the same?

Chewing and Swallowing

Ever tried playing a harmonica without moving your lips? Yep, it's a challenge. Similarly, your child's ability to chew and swallow might be creating their own set of hurdles with eating.

Factors like tongue ties or low muscle tone can play a part.

Most of the time, children catch up and develop their eating skills with time and practice. In some cases, children may need support from a speech and language therapist if they are really struggling to manage food in their mouths.

Ups and Downs of Life

Ups and downs can influence your child’s appetite, just as they do yours. Stress, changes, big life events – they all play a role in how your child interacts with food.

Sometimes, it's not about the dish not being perfect, or you not cooking it “just right” - it’s about the emotional backdrop.

When your child gives the dinner table the cold shoulder, it might be more about life's whirlwinds than your menu choices.

Take a step back from thinking “what have I done wrong this time!” and consider what’s going on for your child.

Unique for every child

The combination of factors that lead to fussy eating are different for every child.

One child might have been born with tongue tie and suffers from constipation - while another child might be cautious in nature and have a very sensitive sense of smell! The way we would support these children may require different approaches and strategies.

Get to the bottom of the reasons behind your child’s eating using our Picky Profile tool which walks you through 7 top reasons for fussy eating and identifies which apply to your child.

Still can’t shake the feeling you’ve done something wrong?

Even when you understand the common reasons for fussy eating - you may still believe you did something wrong that made the situation worse.

You’re right that the environment, responses to your child’s eating, and opportunities available to them do make a difference. W

hile parents are not the cause of fussy eating there are things you can do to fuel fussy eating to continue, and there are things you can do to improve the situation.

Recognise that there are likely good reasons why you tried the strategies that you feel did not help, explanations for why you responded in the way that you did, and that you have always been doing your best for your child.

If these guilty feelings are hard to shake, check out this blog on feeling guilty and how to move past it .

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