Is Your Baby a Picky Eater?

Medically Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on November 29, 2022
4 min read

If your baby loves carrot puree one day but pushes it away the next, or if you find yourself begging your little one to eat, you're not alone. Between 20% to 50% of kids are described by their parents as picky eaters.

Why do babies turn into picky eaters? What are the signs? And what can you do about it?

The symptoms of a picky eater can seem pretty obvious: Your baby may push away the spoon or turn their head from it. They might close their mouth as you try feeding them, spit out food, or become cranky or tired at mealtime.

Yet these signals don't necessarily mean your baby is picky. They can also be signs your little one is simply full, distracted, or not feeling well.

A baby can seem picky for dozens of reasons -- or no reason at all. They may have an immature digestive system, which will cure itself with time. They might be teething, have an infection, food allergy, or just may not be ready for solid foods yet.

As long as growth and weight gain are normal and the baby is achieving their milestones, there's usually no reason to worry about a fussy baby who prefers a limited diet. But if you find yourself worried about infant feeding problems, talk to your pediatrician before trying the following tips.

Never force feed. If your little one turns their head from the spoon, they are telling you clearly they have had enough -- even if it seems they have had very little. Trust that your child will eat what they need. If you force baby to eat despite these signs, your little one may start associating eating with tension and discomfort -- and become even more fussy.

Try different textures. Even babies have food preferences. Some enjoy wet foods, while others may prefer finger foods. Some may want to graze through a half dozen mini-meals, while others may favor liquids over solids for a time. Make sure that you do not feed your child "junk" in order to get them to eat. Offer healthy options and they'll develop a taste for them.

Transform the tempo. Some babies want to eat fast, others slow. Could you be frustrating your little one with the wrong feeding tempo? There's only one way to find out: Try slowing down the next feeding, or picking up the pace.

Minimize distractions. Make food the focus of mealtime. Turn off the TV, remove toys and books, and help your little one focus on one thing: Eating.

Keep meal length reasonable. It's tempting to let a picky eater take as long as they want to eat. Although you shouldn't rush mealtime, don't let it go on much longer than 20-30 minutes.

Make mealtime family time. Try to eat meals as a family, so your baby is encouraged to model your habits. And try to stick to a schedule so your baby isn’t upset that park time ended abruptly for lunch.

Let baby touch their food. You probably wouldn't eat a food you've never seen before without first looking it over. Your baby is the same, so let your little one touch a new food before you offer it.

Follow your baby's timeline. Most babies begin eating solid foods between 4 and 6 months, but some may start a little earlier, others later. As with crawling, walking, potty-training, and just about every other infant milestone, there's no perfect time -- there's your baby's time.

Let your baby participate. By about 9 months, many babies are interested in trying to feed themselves. Although your picky eater is likely to make a mess waving around the mealtime spoon, letting them take control is important to a child's growth and development.

It's natural for babies to slow down their feedings. As they reach the end of their first year, babies’ growth tends to slow. So, too, can their calorie needs. Be patient; growth spurts are on the way.

Keep trying, gently. Some babies may need to try a food eight, 10, even 15 times before they enjoy it, so be patient and continue to revisit a rejected food over time, time as long as there are no allergy concerns.

Don't let on that you're frustrated or angry. React emotionally to a picky eater and even a 1-year-old will understand their power over you. Realize that you want your baby to eat for their own well-being, not to please you -- and that baby's rejection of a food is not a rejection of you.

Understand who's responsible for what. It's your job to feed your baby, but it's your baby's responsibility to decide what and how much to eat. Children will always eat when they're hungry. As long as a child is growing and gaining weight -- and you are feeding them healthy foods -- there's little need to worry about a baby who's a picky eater.