We know food is a big part of childhood and it can sometimes be tough to get kids to eat. We compiled a list of five surprising reasons why some kids refuse to eat their vegetables that could be causing more than just the child being picky.
The “my baby is not eating anything what should i do” is a question that parents often ask. The main reasons why children refuse to eat are: they’re sick, they’re bored, they’re tired, and their appetite has changed.
Do you feel like you’re hitting your head against a brick wall trying to find out why your kid won’t eat anything or won’t eat at all? There are valid causes for picky eating in children, as well as strategies for assisting them. Learn how from a mother and a feeding specialist.
Parents often ask me, “Why does my kid refuse to eat anything?” as an occupational therapist.
It’s aggravating when you attempt to introduce new things to them, or even worse, when you provide something they’ve had before, such as their favorite chicken nuggets or peanut butter crackers, and they refuse to eat! Most children do this on occasion, but others refuse to eat on a daily basis.
What’s the deal with kids who never seem to eat?
Or are they only going to eat if you feed them?
Or the youngster who refuses to eat and is gaining weight?
It’s frightening, perplexing, and stressful to be a parent. You may question whether you’re simply dealing with the changing sands of a finicky eater’s choices.
It’s usually about a lot more than finicky eating – more on that in a moment.
“My two, three, or four-year-old refuses to eat anything” – Where to Begin
To assist children who are rejecting food, we must first determine WHY they are refusing to eat, since chronic food rejection is not a normal aspect of development. In fact, when a child refuses to eat on a regular basis, regardless of weight loss, it’s a BIG red signal that something else is going on.
It’s time to put on your detective hat and figure out what’s causing the issue so you can assist your youngster consume more food and prevent power battles during family dinners.
5 Reasons Why a Child Is Refusing to Eat
The fact is that there are several reasons why children refuse to eat. As an occupational therapist with a specialized feeding background, I feel the majority may be divided into five categories.
However, we must be clear that if a kid consistently refuses to eat very little of any meal or only eats a few favored foods, they may be diagnosed with Pediatric Feeding Disorder (PFD), which was newly introduced as a diagnosable code in October of 2021.
Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder is another alternative, however it is connected to anxiety. For further information, see number 5 below!
This is a good thing since children who struggle to eat are sometimes labeled as picky eaters, which isn’t an accurate description and leaves them without the support they need.
Look for symptoms you’ve noticed in your kid as a potential explanation as you go through the list below. A youngster who refuses to eat on a regular basis may have numerous of the underlying issues listed below.
Keeping that in mind, allow me to elaborate further.
Medical Concerns No. 1
Although this may seem to be the most apparent explanation for a child’s refusal to eat, it is sometimes neglected or not adequately investigated. It is evident that when children have a well-documented medical illness or are obviously ill, their eating will be influenced.
However, there are also more subtle indications that are very easy to overlook. Silent acid reflux and constipation are two of the most common causes. Both of these fairly frequent issues in children might cause them to stop eating.
Acid reflux is prevalent in newborns, but it may also affect older children, even if they weren’t diagnosed as infants.
Unfortunately, this is often due to the fact that children do not complain when their stomach hurts. Many of them are unaware of it because they have been feeling this way for a long time or because they are too young to express their feelings. Learn more about acid reflux in children and how to treat it naturally.
Constipation has been a problem for my elder kid since he was around a year old. I have to keep a close eye on his fiber intake, and when he becomes backed up, it has a big impact on his appetite.
“Does he need to go to the bathroom?” I have to question myself every time he doesn’t eat properly. Usually, the answer is yes! Managing your child’s constipation might make it much easier for them to try new meals. Learn more about severe constipation in children and how to treat it with natural solutions.
If your child’s unwillingness to eat is more of a phase, you may want to investigate teething, being sick, or being tired as potential causes. Food rejection or fussy eating may become a way of life for your kid if he or she is unwell or weary all of the time.
If your kid has any physical symptoms or if you’ve ruled out the other explanations mentioned below, I highly advise you to contact a pediatric gastroenterologist. There are a slew of additional, less frequent options, including:
- Allergies to foods (3-5 percent of kids)
- Sensitivities to foods
- Eosinophilic esophagitis is a kind of eosinophilic esophagitis that (EoE)
- Stomach emptying takes longer than usual.
- Abnormalities of the throat, mouth, or intestines
- Ties in the tongue, lips, or cheeks
The following are some indicators that your kid may be suffering from one of the aforementioned medical conditions:
- consuming just little amounts of food
- Dry or abrasive textures are difficult to swallow.
- removing a favorite food, such as milk, yogurt, or eggs
- I’m just interested in liquids and not solid stuff.
- Chewing food and holding it in their cheeks (pocketing food)
However, each of those indications may be explained in a variety of ways! That’s why wearing a detective hat is crucial!
It’s a fantastic idea to talk to your doctor about it more!
Sensory Processing (#2)
Sensory processing is a major factor in many picky eaters’ inability to consume certain meals. Simply said, they won’t consume anything that tastes bad in their mouth or on their hands.
Tactile defensive is the fancy therapeutic word for when a youngster refuses to touch diverse materials. And it’s a clue that their oral sensory system needs assistance if they don’t enjoy specific sensations in their mouth or chew/bite/lick anything other than food.
Gagging, wriggling, or seeming terrified by the appearance, smell, touch, or taste of a specific meal are all signs that your kid may be avoiding foods due to sensory input.
When parents attempt to feed their newborns baby or table meals, the first signals often occur. These responses may occur while the taste receptors grow between the ages of one and two years. Other times, older children might acquire texture and taste sensitivities that they didn’t have as a child!
Oral Aversion is characterized by extreme sensitivity and fear of anything in or near the mouth.
Oral aversion falls into this group as well. If your kid has had medical tests, feeding tubes, severe vomiting, or a physical event in or around their mouth/throat (even as a youngster), they may be fearful of anything that comes near their mouth and be highly sensitive in the region.
On the opposite end of the sensory range, a youngster may be unable to distinguish between food in their mouth and would, like a chipmunk, shove a big quantity of food into their cheeks.
This provides them with information about the location of the meal. These children have trouble keeping track of their food and chewing it properly. They frequently avoid soft foods that are difficult to distinguish (think mashed potatoes, cheese, etc.) since they can’t manage them properly in their mouth.
While many parents are unaware of the role of sensory in picky eating and food rejection, it’s vital to address it so that your kid can learn to eat a range of healthy meals at mealtimes with the rest of the family.
It changes everything if you can understand why your kid is avoiding food from a sensory standpoint. Read about sensory processing and picky eating to have a deeper understanding of the link.
Interoception Could Be the Cause of Chronic Poor Appetite
While frequent snacking and drinking milk throughout the day might dull a child’s appetite for the next meal, other children never appear to be hungry or comprehend the concept of fullness.
This is linked to interoception, one of the hidden senses. Essentially, a youngster with weak interoception is unable to recognize signals from their stomach indicating that it is time to eat or that they should continue eating until they are satisfied.
It’s as though they’ve been mixed up in the transmission. The good news is that this appetite awareness may be improved! Learn more about interoception in our interoception article.
If you want to learn more about how to assist sensitive kids, attend the free class I provide for parents who are attempting to help their children who refuse to eat. You may begin utilizing the instructions right now!
3. Oral-Motor Techniques
We take it for granted, yet eating, like walking, talking, and learning to read, is a synchronized skill. It isn’t simple for all children. Oral-motor skills, as defined by therapists, are the capacity to chew.
The following are signs that your youngster isn’t chewing properly:
- Choking/gagging for a few seconds/minutes after the meal has already entered their mouth
- Taking food from the table (holding it in their mouth)
- Foods that are soft or pureed are preferred.
- spitting out food that hasn’t been fully chewed
- Accidentally, food spills out of the mouth.
- They are unable to remove food or crumbs from their lips or mouth corners using their tongue or lips.
- Throwing up food that seems to have been hardly chewed
- a history of nursing difficulties
These symptoms are often seen in young children who are having difficulty learning to consume table meals or even pureed foods. While children with any of the underlying issues described may struggle with weight, children with weak oral motor skills get exhausted and discouraged.
They stop eating rapidly and may not be able to catch up to their peers in terms of development.
Some children may refuse to eat certain meals because they do not know how to chew them or are afraid that they will gag/choke/throw up on the food they do not understand. This may last far into adolescence, yet if left untreated, children may develop workarounds.
However, it’s not unusual for a 12-year-inability old’s to eat to be connected to oral motor abilities in some manner. To discover more about ways to assist your kid develop their oral motor abilities, go to Oral Motor Exercises.
Oral motor issues may often lead to sensory defensiveness, as a youngster who hasn’t eaten any other textures in a long time or at all becomes very sensitive to them. When they touch or feel these unfamiliar textures, they may find them unusual and even painful.
If your kid has never successfully moved to crunchy table foods, you should read How to Transition to Finger Foods.
4. The Effect of a Snowball, Routine, and The Common Picky Eating Stage
I feel that structure and routine surrounding food and meal time are crucial to children eating well, since adjustments in the meal time pattern may help your child consume less “junk food,” come to the dinner table more readily, and eat more of what we commonly consider “healthy” meals.
Some children will be able to eat healthily without a regular schedule, but most children’s eating habits will deteriorate substantially if they do not have one.
*In my free class, you’ll learn 3 Keys to Turning Around Picky Eating, even for REALLY picky eaters. We’ll also give you a complimentary workbook!*
Without a schedule, children may begin to take their meals apart from the rest of the family, and they may not consume as much food while eating alone.
Pay attention to how often your youngster eats if you don’t have regular meal times. Do you often dine in front of the television and/or allow your children choose what they want to eat? Lack of routine may be the cause for it… or at least part of it… if they don’t have a broad range of meals, just want snack foods, or aren’t eager to explore new cuisines.
This is often seen in combination with one of the other four reasons why youngsters don’t eat. We get overwhelmed when there is a difficulty with eating and begin clutching at straws to encourage them to eat. Another way that negative habits might start and ultimately play a part in food rejection is via this method.
That’s not to suggest you’re to fault; after all, our children need to eat, right? And we do the best we can with the information we have. Don’t feel bad about the decisions you’ve made in times of need.
Even the pickiest eaters will find a way to avoid dining in front of an iPad or having their own separate meals, I swear. It’s all about taking little steps, which I’ll teach you how to do in the suggestions below.
Many children who depend on a screen to eat do so because eating is challenging for them due to oral motor, sensory, or medical difficulties.
The Common Picky Eating Stage
Another prevalent aspect is that some children start off as excellent eaters, but then their eating habits deteriorate between the ages of 1-2 years. Yes, it’s annoying and disturbing.
It is NORMAL for toddlers to go through a picky eating period as their taste senses expand and they begin to try to impose some influence over their life, whether you like it or not. When a kid who previously had good eating habits suddenly stops eating, parents are understandably concerned, and regularity and structure are thrown out the window.
The Effect of a Snowball
With parents desperate for their children to eat anything, or at the very least some nutritious snacks, short order cooking is introduced, along with a slew of other well-intentioned but counterproductive tactics, and parents are left with a true picky eater months or years later.
Despite having the best of intentions, a lack of regularity may lead to long-term eating reluctance and difficulty.
I call it The Effect of a Snowball because the eating difficulties started off small and grew with momentum over time, just like a snowball rolling down a big hill!
The majority of parents I speak with who have children over the age of five believe that worry is the primary cause of their children’s refusal to eat, and it is frequently a contributing factor. Children who have difficulty chewing, get stomach pains or worse while eating, or can’t handle the texture of many meals are afraid to try new or unusual foods.
Yes, people are afraid of eating since it has frequently been unpleasant and loaded with terrible experiences. They’re worried.
But, until it progresses to severe psychiatric anxiety, I don’t believe anxiety to be the primary underlying reason. In this circumstance, children will often make the following statements:
- I’m afraid I’ll choke if I eat the pasta.
- I really want to eat it, but I’m afraid it’s infected.
- What if the pizza is laced with poison? I’m afraid I won’t be able to consume it.
Kids with clinical food anxiety often become unreasonable. They also often suffer from clinical anxiety in other aspects of their lives.
This is not the same as a youngster expressing, “I’m afraid my meal will feel slimy like the avocado,” which is a sensory-based anxiety that requires distinct treatment.
If a kid has clinical anxiety and no other underlying factors that have affected their eating and is past the age of 5, they may be labeled with Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). However, I regularly see this diagnosis misdiagnosed when PFD is more appropriate.
If you’re not sure, gather a couple opinions and feel free to write a remark below; we respond to all of them!
What if my child refuses to eat because he or she is misbehaving?
Many people tell parents that their children are “bad” or that their refusal to eat is due to their conduct. Although behavior plays a part, only a tiny fraction of children refuse to eat merely because of their behavior.
In reality, in the hundreds of families I’ve worked with and the thousands of kids we’ve taught via our online picky eating programs, I’ve never seen a child’s picky eating be exclusively due to their behavior.
Please don’t get me wrong: even the tiniest of tykes will rapidly figure out what they need to say, cry, or toss in order to acquire the food they desire.
When it comes to testing boundaries, all children go through various phases of growth, and you can guarantee they will do so during mealtimes as well. After all, this is one of the few areas over which they have any authority. These types of minor phases, on the other hand, are brief and non-severe.
Behavior is a part of the puzzle for kids who have a history of being picky eaters, but it usually stems from one of the real causes outlined above.
And, when the underlying problem is addressed, meal-related behaviors diminish!
What to Do If Your Child Refuses to Eat
On Your Kid’s Table, I’ve published hundreds of articles on how to overcome finicky eating (yes, there is hope).
Whatever combination of factors is causing your kid to be a picky eater, the best way to persuade them to eat when they refuse is to avoid pressing them during meals and to establish a consistent pattern for them, such as having regularly scheduled meals with no snacking in between.
Then, whether it’s sensory processing, medical issues, or oral motor skills, concentrate on treating the underlying problem.
You can plan out the perfect mealtime routine and get a free printout with all 9 ideas to post on your refrigerator.
Once you’ve established a schedule, you may use some of my favorite picky eating strategies to encourage your kid to try new foods for the first time. I like to use dips (even if your kid doesn’t like them), interesting utensils like toothpicks (believe me), and split plates.
Plus, there are a slew of innovative food-related concepts, and I’m not talking about extravagant food sequences that take an hour to cut out.
Cooking with your children is another great technique that may make a big impact. Everyone says it, and parents think to themselves, “Not my child.” But bear with me. I teach you how to do it, explain why it’s vital, and provide you with these fussy eater-friendly recipes:
Visit healthy snacks for picky eaters and healthy recipes for finicky eaters (where you’ll also find a free printable!) for even more food options.
You may go on to my heavy hitting picky eating suggestions if you’ve tried a lot of these tactics previously and want to dive a bit further (only use them after you’ve established a routine and pleasant atmosphere). These take a bit more thinking, but they can make a big difference.
Learn ways to encourage your kid to try new foods and expand on what they currently consume.
Finally, find a way to have just one family dinner, even if you have a finicky eater (you can do it!) to preserve your sanity. and how to make mealtimes enjoyable, even when it appears difficult to do so.
I understand if you’re feeling overwhelmed at this moment, but resist! This is the location of this page (pin it so you can come back). Always remember to take one step at a time!
Getting More Assistance for the Child Who Refuses to Eat
It may be tremendously intimidating and terrifying to have a picky eater, much alone an extreme fussy eater or a kid with PFD. I’ve been there, and the anxiety can take over your life. However, there are a few options for seeking expert assistance:
- Find out more about feeding therapy and if it’s right for your kid.
It’s possible that you’ll need the advice and information provided here again. Here’s where you can save it to Pinterest!
Additional Articles for the Child Who Refuses to Eat
8 Simple Ways to Keep Your Child at the Table
Plates, forks, and other cool items that encourage children to eat
When a toddler refuses to eat, there are a few things you can do.
Is Your Picky Eater Being Affected By Food Jags? What you should know…
The “6 year old doesn’t eat much” is a surprising reason that kids refuse to eat. There are many reasons why, but it’s important to know the possible causes so you can help your child.
Frequently Asked Questions
What causes a child to refuse to eat?
A: A child refusing to eat could be caused by a variety of things, including illness or discomfort. However, there are some general things that can cause this type of behavior in children who have trouble eating food. These include the following: 1) Anxiety about being forced to eat something they dont enjoy 2) Food allergies 3) Older siblings forcing them to eat 4) Fear from an unknown situation 5) Hunger 6)…
Why does my 5 year old not want to eat?
A: There are a lot of reasons why someone might not want to eat. Some of these include lack of appetite, pain in the stomach, feeling bloated or full already, and other issues that may have caused them discomfort. With this said I recommend checking with your doctor sooner rather than later if youre concerned about your childs eating habits.
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