Causes of picky eating in toddlers - Curious Cub Club

Causes of picky eating in toddlers

Being a picky eater can be a normal developmental step children take as they grow from baby to toddler to school-age child. The once ready to try anything baby becomes a reluctant toddler whom is hesitant to try new foods and may not even want foods they once previously liked.

Baby Proofing their Taste Buds

Parents baby proof their homes with baby gates and locks on cabinets when they are getting ready for their soon to be mobile baby. Little did you know that your baby is helping protect themselves by protecting their taste buds. When transitioning from breastfeeding or bottle feeding to solids, these once receptive taste buds become cautious to protect the child from eating something poisonous.

Early during weaning, babies are willing to try whatever you provide. This period does end and an “off switch” occurs to the willingness to accept any food. Research indicates this is intended to help protect the child. This “off switch” occurs when the child is more mobile and may be exploring away from their parents. This instinct potentially protects the child from eating something that could be poisonous or dangerous to the child.

Fear of New Foods

  • Neophobia is a reluctance to try new foods which peaks around 2 years old and can persist until around 4-6 years old. This can include foods that they have previously accepted.
  • Normal and expected development for infants includes rolling over, crawling, and walking. For toddlers, eating behavior problems were so common that it was concluded in studies that it is a normal feature of toddler life. We can expect this fear of new foods as part of the normal development of toddlers.Many children become reluctant to try new foods. It is unlikely that picky eating will simply diminish on its own as a child grows older. Continually exposing children to a variety of foods might decrease the picky eating and increase enjoyment of foods.

  • Genes, Temperament, and Independence

    Hey, parents, how were you with eating as a child? If you were a choosy child with eating, you may have passed this trait down to your child.

    A child's temperament can also play into their willingness to try new foods. If your child is cautious in trying new activities, hesitant to do something unfamiliar, this may continue to the table as they are hesitant to try new foods.

    As a toddler grows in their ability, they are testing their independence in many ways which shows up at the kitchen table. Keep in mind Satter's Division of Responsibility in which it is the parent's job to decide what is being served, when, and where while the child decides what to eat from what is served and how much. By serving foods family style when the child is old enough to serve themselves, this allows them to exercise their independence by selecting their foods from what is available. If the parent is making their plate, place small portions of the foods served and allow the child to decide which foods to eat and how much.

    When to seek professional assistance

    A child may not simply grow out of their picky eating. If the child has a limited amount of foods in their like column and is not growing this list, additional guidance from professionals may be recommended. Professionals focusing on assisting families with this includes Pediatric Dietitians, Occupational Therapist, and Speech Therapists. Pediatric Dietitians near your area can be found by going to and clicking on "Find a Nutrition Professional".  


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