Picky eaters may be born that way: the ability to taste sweetness and bitterness may be genetically related to the number of taste buds on a person's tongue. The so-called genetic supertaster, for example, may have as many as 1,100 taste buds per square centimeter of tongue, while a more accepting eater may have as few as 11 taste buds in the same-size area [The Yale Guide to Children's Nutrition edited by William V. Tamborlane, M.D.].
Despite this genetic wiring and such sensitive taste ability, a child can learn to enjoy foods he didn't care for at first. Here are some tips to help accomplish this.
- Increase familiarity. If at first you don't succeed in interesting your youngster in a food, try, try, again! Children may require as many as ten exposures to a new taste before they begin to like it.
- Play with your food. Nutritionists now encourage preschoolers to have fun with food by making food faces or shaping a meal with cookie cutters.
- Add a dash. If your child still won't take food risks, try modifying certain items by adding a little of something they do like.
- Never force a child to eat. Children know when they are hungry or full, so trust them to be able to tell the difference.
A study from the American Dietetic Association showed that even though 49% of mothers considered their children to be picky eaters, all of the children in the study actually consumed a wide enough variety of foods to meet their nutritional needs.
While a picky eater may become less so over time, if very selective eating habits continue for years, it can result in the development of nutritional deficiencies and food allergies
, if they are not already present.