“Why Won't My Child Eat Anything?” Helping You Understand Picky Eaters


  1. What causes picky eaters?

  2. What's considered a picky eater?

  3. Is being a picky eater psychological?

  4. How do you fix picky eaters?

  5. What do you do if your child is a picky eater?

  6. Is it normal for a 7 year old to be a picky eater?


Having children is always a challenge, no matter what kind of parent you are. If you have a fussy eater, this can make things harder. You work hard to put food on the table, your child won’t eat, and it ends up going in the bin. This kind of challenging behaviour can make a difficult situation worse and you can end up feeling at the end of your tether and wondering what on earth you can do to resolve the situation. Well, we just might be able to help. Read on and discover our tips on how to deal with a picky eater. 


What causes picky eaters?


You may have a fussy eating baby, a fussy 1-year-old eater, a 2-year-old fussy eater, a fussy 3-year-old eater or even a difficult teenager who refuses to eat. Whatever their age, there are a number of reasons why they might be fussy eaters.

  • Feeding difficulties early on
  • Introducing lumpy food late when weaning
  • Feeling pressure to eat
  • Being naturally more sensitive to certain tastes, textures and smells
  • Having parents who are fussy eaters themselves

The vast majority of picky food eaters usually don’t continue in this manner and it’s most often a phase lots of children go through. If your child is older, however, it could be a sign of something more serious. 


What's considered a picky eater?


There isn’t such a thing as a picky eater food list or a clear fussy eater meaning so there isn’t a concrete answer about whether your child is one or not. According to the National Library of Medicine, picky eaters are described as: 👇

‘...those who consume an inadequate variety of food through rejection of a substantial amount of foods that are both familiar and unfamiliar. Picky eating is a relatively recent theoretical concept and while there is increasing concern within public health over the lack of diversity in some children's diets, adult picky eaters remain an under-researched group.’

If this sums up your child then we reckon you’re probably in need of fussy eaters' help and should continue reading!  


Is being a picky eater psychological?


Yes and no. First, it’s worth looking at how tastes develop from a scientific point of view. Development in food tastes starts really early on, even before birth: 🤰



More information

8 weeks gestation

First taste buds are formed.

Via the amniotic fluid, a baby experiences taste patterns without having direct contact with food.

New-born baby

The taste sense is the most developed, most important and most sensitive.

Via breast milk or bottled milk. Babies have taste buds on the tonsils and the back of the throat, not just on the tongue.

Three months

Tongue grows.

Your baby is able to now make sense of different tastes and textures and this is the reason why they like to put things in their mouths.

Five months

Change in sense of taste.

Your baby can now sense salty tastes. That’s why it’s probably a good idea to limit this taste at this age.

Six to twelve months

The baby is weaned.

Your baby will be suspicious of new food at first because up until now they’ve mainly known the sweet taste of milk. 🥛 Studies have shown that a child can reject a certain food seven or eight times before they accept it so the message is don’t give up.

12 to 18 months

The start of the Neophobic stage.

Toddlers become more and more reluctant to try new food. They can also stop eating food they used to like. This is often because of how the food looks.

Nursery school age

More accepting of different food.

Children will start to imitate adults’ eating behaviour and also those of children at nursery. Why not contact your child’s teacher to see if this is happening? If your child is neurodiverse, this often won’t happen.


So, all these points toward picky food eaters being a completely natural process.

However, it’s something parents should keep an eye on. Researchers at Duke University studied the eating habits of 1,100 children aged 2-5. They also continued to check in with around 200 of these children on an annual basis. They found that picky eaters are very common: moderate 18% and severe 3%.

Picky eating can be an early sign of psychological problems. How to deal with fussy eaters shouldn’t be something that is overlooked because it’s common and they’re likely to grow out of it. Early intervention is key for any issue related to mental health

In the study, the severe picky eaters, now diagnosed with ARFID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder), are thought to be about two times as likely to suffer from depression and 2.7 times more likely to experience social anxiety. It is not thought that moderate picky eaters go on to have a higher risk of a psychiatric condition diagnosis, but it is believed they are more likely to have symptoms of ADHD, depression and anxiety than normal eaters.


How do you fix picky eaters?


If you’re hoping to ‘fix’ a picky eater, you’re probably going to fail. This isn’t a dripping tap and you aren’t a plumber. What you need are some tactics to encourage your child to eat well. For that, see below! 👇


What do you do if your child is a picky eater?


Obviously, any parent wants to get their child to eat healthily. It’s important for their mental well-being, their growth and to maintain their energy levels throughout the day. 💪

Don’t give up. We know you may work long hours, be a single mother or are fed up with the endless tantrums, but you should see some progress if you try our tips for fussy eaters.

  •       Try your best not to lose it! This is only going to make the situation worse. We know how hard it is to stay calm but try, you must.
  •       Don’t force them to eat the food. If they reject it, simply take it away. Keep a note to try that food again at a later date.
  •       Eat around the table as a family with the focus being on conversation and not food.
  •       Put some creativity into your presentation, especially as children go through a stage of rejecting what food looks like. For example, you could use different shaped biscuit cutters to make vegetables look more appealing, a star carrot 🥕 or a diamond-shaped piece of apple 🍏 perhaps! 
  •       Lead by example. You can’t expect your child to eat something that someone else around the table is refusing to eat.
  •       Cut the snacks! If your child doesn’t want to eat, it may have something to do with the two chocolate bars and three packets of crisps they have just had! It’s OK to feel hungry when dinner comes around.
  •       Keep the portions small, to begin with, at least when trying new food.
  •       Reward them for good behaviour at the dinner table. Star charts work well with young children.
  •       Try not to reward children with food. Non-food rewards are best.
  •       Get an allergy check to make sure your picky eater doesn’t actually have an allergy or intolerance to something.
  •       Remember that you’re the adult. Children can be very persuasive and want to be in control. That’s why, instead of preparing something for your picky eater and something for the rest of the family, prepare the same meal for everyone. You shouldn’t all be dictated by your toddlers eating habits or a fussy eater's diet. It’s good for the child to know their boundaries.
  •       Involve your child in the cooking process. Suggest that they produce a mini-menu one night, take them shopping and help them prepare it. They will get an enormous sense of achievement and also may appreciate what goes into putting food on the table. For other activities, you can do with your child, see here.
  •       Let your child help themselves to their food - one main and one healthy side dish. You have control over what they eat but they have control over how much they have. You never know, giving your child a little control may go a long way.
  •       Praise. When they have the courage to try something new, tell them they’ve done well. Encourage them to feel proud of themselves when they achieve something that is a challenge to them. 🏆
  •       Don’t insist they clear their plate. If they say they’re full, they probably are. Learn to trust them especially as their stomach is probably smaller than yours! 

Find more tips here.


Is it normal for a 7-year-old to be a picky eater? 


As mentioned, most picky eaters grow out of the habit by then, but it isn’t ‘abnormal’. How to get fussy eaters to eat when they are seven and over requires some different ideas.




Drop the label ‘picky eater’.

It’s ok to describe your fussy one-year-old eater, but more sensitivity is required when they’re older and more aware.

You and they won’t be burdened by the phrase and can start afresh.

Make mealtimes regular.

Kids, even older kids like routine, and the kitchen still shouldn’t be a help-yourself area.

By controlling the kitchen area to some degree you can reduce snacks making them more likely to be hungry at mealtimes.

Don’t lecture.

Lectures turn into pressure.

They’ll feel less pressured about trying something new if you haven’t delivered a 30-minute monologue beforehand.

Educate them about healthy eating. 📕

They’ll be more able to make decisions about food themselves.

They’ll choose to eat things for a good reason, not just because you told them to.

Make them responsible for one meal a week.

They are getting older and cooking is a good life skill. Obviously, younger children will need help from you to do this.

They will become interested in food preparation and may want to produce a more varied menu as they get older and more adventurous. You may start building up a list of easy weeknight meals for picky eaters from them.


At the end of the day, we know you’re doing your best. If you have the odd day where you just have to give in to the demands of your child, this isn’t going to be a deal-breaker. But where you can, stick to our advice and keep going. You can only do your best! ⭐