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Understanding Picky Eaters: its Causes, Effects, and Solutions

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Picky eaters, also known as selective eaters or fussy eaters, are individuals who have specific food preferences and resist trying new or unfamiliar foods. While many children go through phases of picky eating, some individuals continue to exhibit these tendencies into adulthood. Picky eating can be a source of frustration for parents, caregivers, and even the individuals themselves. In this article, we will delve into the causes, effects, and potential solutions for dealing with picky eaters.

Understanding Picky Eaters: Causes, Effects, and Solutions

Causes of Picky Eating

  1. Genetics: Research suggests that genetics play a role in a person's taste preferences. Some people may be genetically predisposed to be more sensitive to certain tastes, textures, or odors, making them more likely to become picky eaters.

  2. Early Experiences: Childhood food experiences significantly influence one's eating habits. Traumatic or negative experiences with specific foods can lead to aversions and picky eating habits. Conversely, positive experiences can encourage food exploration.

  3. Sensory Sensitivities: Some individuals have heightened sensory perceptions, making them more sensitive to certain food textures, temperatures, or flavors. These sensitivities can contribute to picky eating behaviors.

  4. Control and Autonomy: Particularly in children, picky eating can be a way of asserting control and independence. Refusing certain foods may be a child's way of exerting their autonomy over what they eat.

  5. Environmental Factors: Family eating patterns, cultural influences, and the availability of certain foods can all impact a person's food preferences. Limited exposure to diverse foods may lead to a narrower palate.

Understanding Picky Eaters: Causes, Effects, and Solutions

Effects of Picky Eating

Picky eating can have several consequences, both short-term and long-term, on an individual's health and well-being:

  1. Nutritional Deficiencies: Picky eaters often miss out on essential nutrients, potentially leading to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. This can affect growth and development, particularly in children.

  2. Limited Food Variety: A restricted diet can limit the range of nutrients and flavors a person experiences, potentially leading to a less diverse and enjoyable diet.

  3. Social and Psychological Effects: Picky eaters may experience social isolation and embarrassment when dining with others. Anxiety and stress related to food choices can impact one's overall quality of life.

  4. Impact on Relationships: Parents and caregivers may become frustrated when trying to accommodate picky eaters, leading to tension within the family.

Solutions for Dealing with Picky Eaters

  1. Gradual Exposure: Encourage picky eaters to gradually try new foods or foods they have previously refused. Offer small portions and be patient.

  2. Positive Reinforcement: Praise and reward adventurous eating behaviors. Offer verbal encouragement and small rewards for trying new foods.

  3. Model Healthy Eating: Be a role model by consuming a variety of foods yourself. Children often mimic the eating behaviors of adults.

  4. Involve Children in Meal Preparation: Including children in meal preparation can make them more interested in trying the foods they helped make.

  5. Create a Positive Eating Environment: Make mealtimes enjoyable by creating a pleasant atmosphere without pressure or conflict.

  6. Seek Professional Help: If picky eating becomes a significant concern, consult a pediatrician or a registered dietitian. They can give advice and take care of any underlying problems.

  7. Be Patient and Persistent: Overcoming picky eating habits takes time. It's essential to remain patient and consistent in your efforts to expand a picky eaters palate.


Understanding picky eaters requires recognizing the various factors that contribute to their food preferences. While it can be challenging to deal with selective eating habits, with patience, positive reinforcement, and a gradual approach, individuals and families can work towards expanding their dietary choices. Remember that every person is unique, and what works for one picky eater may not work for another. The key is to create a supportive and nurturing environment that encourages a healthy relationship with food.

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