Why Kids are Finicky Eaters

img_7707What Science Shows Works with Finicky Eaters

Babies have a healthy appetite and then a common shift takes place and they become picky eaters at about 2-years-old.

The reasons are instinctual. All people were hunters and gatherers for the majority of human existence. We needed to store energy in the form of fat as much as possible. Skinny humans wouldn’t have survived times of famine. So craving high caloric foods is a survival instinct we all have so we won’t starve.

Our tastebuds are literally calorie detectors. A hunter gatherer had to learn what was edible by tasting. Tasting new foods was critical to survival.

Throughout history, adults have been able to experiment with new foods more easily than children. If adults accidentally eat a toxic food they can likely recover. But children have less of an immune system and can’t explore new toxic foods as easily as adults can.

When humans were hunters and gatherers an instinct to be picky about what they ate saved children’s lives. Today, with agriculture, children can eat a variety of nutritious food safely. But the ancient instincts of cautiousness still instinctually exists.

Then we created agriculture and learned how to store food and became a more sedentary species with more calories available all of the time. With agriculture we no longer need to experiment with new foods to survive.

In Scientific Secrets for Raising Kids Who Thrive, Peter M. Vishton, Professor The College of William and Mary says that science proves to do the following with finicky eaters:

1. Pair new foods with familiar foods

2. Encourage kids to eat new foods without being harsh or forceful in doing so

3. You should eat healthy foods alongside the children

4. Avoid filling them up with familiar foods (especially sweet foods) prior to introducing new foods you want them to eat

5. Be patient have faith in the child’s body’s nutrition seeking system. Once they have experienced healthy food their bodies will signal them to eat nutritiously

How do you get kids who for thousands of years instinctively ate safe, high caloric, and sweet foods to eat their vegetables?
Plain exposure.

Expose Kids to New Food for at Least 8 Days:

Make sure they are exposed to all the foods you eat and at least some gets into their systems so their bodies can analyze the nutrition. Once their body learns these strange flavors actually provides their bodies with nutrition they really need, they will be back for more.

Studies prove that exposure to healthy foods increases need. Babies instinctively like peaches better than green beans because infants like sweet foods. At first the babies react negatively to green beans. But in a famous scientific study, after eight days they ate more and more green beans, not peaches. Proving exposure to nutritious food increases their bodies desire it.

If parents stopped giving the babies green beans just because they didn’t like them at first they would never have developed a liking for the vegetable. Their facial expressions showed they didn’t like green beans but their natural selection process took over within eight days. Their bodies actually had them reaching for green beans more than the sweet peaches because they were exposed to them.

Mix Vegetables into Food Kids Already Like:

Scientists suggest giving finicky eaters more vegetables by mixing the veggies into foods they already like. Taste learning systems work very slowly so don’t give up exposing new foods. If you eat potato chips with lunch every day it won’t feel like lunch without potato chips. So if you serve carrots with every meal the same would be true.

Provide New Foods When the Child is Hungry:

Food tastes better when we are hungry as well. The best time to introduce a new food is when they are hungry. Avoid snacks, especially high caloric very sweet foods.

Avoid New Foods When Child Is Sick:

Don’t expose new food when a child is ill. Or they associate being ill with the food.

Gentle Pressure Can Help:

Science shows that pressuring kids to clean their plates is hurtful. Forcing them to eat leads to the hate of food. Studies show they don’t eat more and actually turns them away.

Be a Good Role Model:

Studies show that if you eat healthy yourself the children see you eat and enjoy healthy food, they will as well.

It’s human nature for all children to be finicky at about 2-years-old. But by following the tips shared above, science shows most kids will outgrow picky eating.


Scientific Secrets for Raising Kids Who Thrive by Peter M. Vishton, Professor The College of William and Mary

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