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Why Is My Child a Picky Eater? Common Reasons for Selective Eating for Kids

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

A boy with an angry face and crossed arms staring at a plate of broccoli and rice

One of the questions that my clients have frequently asked is “WHY is my child so picky?”

Believe it or not, the response to this question can sometimes seem a bit complicated. But, to put it simply, there is a common set of behaviors when it comes to picky eaters, and another set of common reasons behind the behaviors.

Knowing the reasons behind these behaviors answers the WHY question and helps us to make progress with our picky eaters.

If you are the parent of a picky eater, you have likely already experienced the common feeding behaviors including self-limiting to certain foods, refusal (avoiding or resisting presented foods), and for some kids, complete meltdowns.

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Let’s look at the common reasons behind these feeding behaviors to learn why feeding picky eaters is not as simple as “Just Eat It!".

1. Temperament – Your child’s inborn personality plays a huge role when it comes to eating.

Children who are intense responders, or as I like to say “kids with BIG feelings” who show you how they feel about all situations will also let you know exactly how they feel about feeding choices.

2. Sensory Issues – Eating is a complex task that requires all of our senses.

Some children experience sensory overload when it comes to eating, having issues when it comes to the sight, smell, texture, temperature and/or taste of the food.

Kids may also demonstrate sensory problems when it comes to the feeding environment, whether it be with the lighting, sounds, seating, etc. in the room.

A child sitting at the table with an angry face with food and drink in front of them

3. Fear/anxiety – Some kids get nervous or worry about anything that is outside of their comfort zone, and this definitely can happen when it comes to food.

I have had clients tell me that they are afraid they will gag, choke or throw up when trying a new food. Often this is because it has happened in the past and they are trying to avoid it from happening again. This fear or anxiety is generally more pronounced for kids who have sensory difficulties with feeding.

4. Food sensitivities or allergies – Foods that are problematic for us don’t always show up with allergy testing.

Still, some foods can cause symptoms or make us feel bad whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. Kids will often steer clear of foods that they think make them feel yucky, even if they can’t verbalize it well.

Interestingly enough, the opposite is also true, in that we may tend to crave or gravitate toward those foods that are actually problems for us.

For kids with diagnosed food allergies, their diets are already limited, and they tend to be even more cautious when it comes to trying new foods.

A mother consoling her child at the table when he doesn't want to eat his food

5. Special needs – For our kids who have special needs, these feeding behaviors are magnified.

Children with autism are often rigid with their daily routines, and when we try to change anything, especially their food, we can usually expect a big reaction.

Also, problems with speech and language make it hard for kids with special needs to express themselves. This increases their frustration and negative responses to our attempted feeding changes for them.

One or all of these reasons may come into play for your own child.

Even if feeding problems started out because of a strong temperament or sensory issues for your child, ALL picky eaters have developed a learned behavioral response when it comes to eating and feeding routines.

The key to building a better eater is to view eating as a behavior and to manage the behavior in a healthy way, while changing your child's relationship with food.

As always, I’m here to help you break down the barriers to feeding and tackle your healthy eating goals for your kids.


Build a Better Eater book for parents of picky eaters

All blog content shared through HealthSmart! Kids is for informational purposes only and not to be construed as medical advice. Always talk with your qualified health care provider for managing your health care needs.

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