Why are Children Picky Eaters? 8 Reasons Your Child Isn’t Eating

Understanding why kids are picky eaters may be helpful in understanding the eating habits of your own child

I’ve done some digging (obviously so you wouldn’t have to), and here are some common reasons that your child is refusing to eat. Let’s start with the less scary options. These are the more likely reasons your kid isn’t eating.

1. Picky Eater

Super basic, I know, but it is a common reason your child isn’t eating. Children know what they like and are hesitant to try new foods sometimes.

That’s okay and perfectly normal. Continue to offer foods they love while exposing them to new foods. Your child will likely grow out of their picky eating stage in time.

2. Distractions

When you set your little one down to eat, do you turn off the TV? Do you allow him or her to bring a toy to the table? Do you sit down at the table to eat with them? Do you eat as a family?

Try removing all those distractions and join your child at the table. Put him or her in the right environment for mealtime, where it is just mealtime. Doing so helps your child learn that this is when we eat, and this is how we eat.

At our house, we even have “themed” music playing in the background based on what we are eating for dinner that night.

This can be a fun cultural experience and a way to get your children engaged in mealtime!

3. Too Many Snacks

I know many kids prefer snacking throughout the day rather than eating a meal. However, they are less likely to eat their lunch or dinner because they are already full!

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends to limit snacks and end the snack window 1-2 hours before mealtime. Hopefully, your little one will start eating better when it is time to eat, knowing they don’t get a snack every hour on the hour.

4. Pressure and Sometimes Stress

It sounds weird to say, but kids can be stressed too. They can feel pressured at home or school. A possible reason your child isn’t eating could be he or she is stressed out or is acting in defiance of being forced to eat.

First, let’s consider stress. Has something significant changed at home or with your child’s environment? It’s the beginning of a new school year with a new teacher, new classmates, and for some a whole new school.

Give them time to adjust. I have some friends that moved to a new state, and their girls were not themselves for the first few weeks.

As for the pressure, your child could be feeling pressured to eat. Telling our kids to sit at the table until all of their food is gone, or they had better eat their food or (insert punishment here) can be just as damaging to a child as telling them not to eat certain foods.

5. Constipation

Have you ever had a backed-up sink and tried to add more water to it to see if it goes down, but instead, you’ve just created a bigger mess, and now you are on the brink of overflowing said sink?

It’s kind of a similar situation when your kid is constipated. They aren’t too excited to add more to the top half when nothing is coming out of the bottom half.

Think about the last time your little one had a bowel movement, if it has been a few days, constipation could be the culprit, and you should speak with your pediatrician.

6. Food Allergies or Sensitivities

This one can be dangerous and life-threatening. If you suspect your child has a food allergy, please contact your provider to have your child tested.

Food allergies can be minor and result in a light rash and range in severity to anaphylaxis. For more information and a more concise list of the symptoms of allergies or sensitivities, Nationwide Children’s Hospital has an easy to read breakdown.

7. Other Medical Issues

Please do not use this section as a self-diagnosing too. If you have read through this list and are not finding any previous sections helpful, please contact your pediatrician. The following medical issues can include:

    1. Illness – if your child doesn’t feel well, they likely won’t want to eat
    2. Reflux – this is more common for the younger children, but it’s still a possibility for the older kids too
    3. Tongue-tie – again this is more common in smaller children, but an undiagnosed tongue tie can cause issues with eating for older children as well
    4. Dysphagia – according to the Mayo Clinic dysphagia is “difficulty swallowing” and may also include pain or not being able to swallow at all

8. Oral or Dental issues

Your child may have a cavity or other dental problem making their ability to chew a challenge or painful. Pain or sores in the mouth can result in not wanting to eat.

If your child is old enough, ask them if something in their mouth is bothering them.

If your child is too young to let you know that something is wrong, look inside and see if you notice redness, swelling, or bleeding.

If you’re unsure but would rather be on the safe side, call and get an appointment with your child’s dentist.

It’s hard as parents to sit aside and watch our children struggle. It’s even harder to accept when we can’t figure out what is going on with our kids. This list intends to help alleviate some of those fears and help guide you in the right direction.