Chow Line: Picky Eating a Normal Part of Early Childhood

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My 4-year-old REFUSES to eat anything that is the color red — no red apples, tomatoes, red peppers or even pepperoni on her pizza. She didn’t used to care what color her food was, but within the past couple weeks, she’s taken a disdain for red foods. Is this normal?

As frustrating as that may be for you when planning family meals and deciding what to feed your little one, picky eating habits are considered a normal part of a child’s development, according to health professionals.

In fact, up to half of preschoolers have exhibited picky eating habits, from wanting their foods prepared only a certain way, to not wanting to try new foods, and to, yes, refusing to eat foods based on color, research has found.

This could be in part because as a child’s growth slows between the ages of 2 and 5, most children experience a decrease in appetite, says Carol Smathers, a field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences at The Ohio State University.

“Picky eating may also be part of establishing independence during the preschool years,” she said. “The good news is that as long as a child is growing normally and has plenty of energy, chances are that his or her diet is providing the necessary nutrients.

“And fortunately, most children will become willing to eat a much greater range of foods over time.”

There are ways to encourage your little ones to expand their palates and savor a wider range of foods. For example, Smathers says, you can:

  • Take your children grocery shopping and let them choose fruits and vegetables.
  • Offer taste-testing opportunities as a way to introduce your child to new foods before they are served in meals. For produce, you can show your child how the food is grown and let your child compare how it tastes both cooked and raw.
  • Include your children in meal preparation, giving them as much responsibility as appropriate for their age and ability. Let them wash fruits and vegetables, measure and add ingredients, or help stir.
  • Offer realistic options, such as, “Would you like carrots or peas tonight?” instead of asking something like, “Do you want peas?”
  • Talk about how much you enjoy the different foods that are being served and what you like about them.

It may also help if you can focus on making mealtime fun and meaningful for your children and family. Ask your kids how their day has gone, or if they did anything fun that day. If your focus is on the foods they won’t eat and how their picky tastes negatively impact the meal, it could lead to unhealthy attitudes toward food and eating habits.

However, if you have a lingering concern about your child’s picky eating habits, it’s best not to scold your child or argue with them to eat. You could instead have a conversation with your pediatrician, nutritionist or other healthcare provider about your concerns.

Chow Line is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Chow Line, c/o Tracy Turner, 364 W. Lane Ave., Suite B120, Columbus, OH 43201, or

Editor: This column was reviewed by Carol Smathers, field specialist in Youth Nutrition and Wellness for Ohio State University Extension.

Tracy Turner
For more information, contact: 

Carol Smathers
OSU Extension, Youth Nutrition and Wellness