Prevalence of picky eaters among infants and toddlers and their caregivers' decisions about offering a new food

J Am Diet Assoc. 2004 Jan;104(1 Suppl 1):s57-64. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2003.10.024.


Objectives: To determine the prevalence of infants and toddlers who were considered picky eaters, the predictors of picky eater status and its association with energy and nutrient intakes, food group use, and the number of times that caregivers offered a new food before deciding their child disliked it.

Design: Cross-sectional survey of households with infants and toddlers (ages four to 24 months) was conducted.

Subjects/setting: National random sample of 3,022 infants and toddlers.

Methods: Data included caregiver's socioeconomic and demographic information, infants' and toddlers' food intake (24-hour recall), ethnicity, and caregivers' reports of specified times that new foods were offered before deciding the child disliked it.

Statistical analyses: For picky and nonpicky eaters, t tests were used to determine significant mean differences in energy and nutrient intakes. Logistic regression was used to predict picky eater status, and chi(2) tests were used for differences in the specified number of times that new foods were offered.

Results: The percentage of children identified as picky eaters by their caregivers increased from 19% to 50% from four to 24 months. Picky eaters were reported at all ages for both sexes, all ethnicities, and all ranges of household incomes. On a day, both picky and nonpicky eaters met or exceeded current age-appropriate energy and dietary recommendations. Older children were more likely to be picky. Those in the higher weight-for-age percentiles were less likely to be picky. The highest number of times that caregivers offered a new food before deciding the child disliked it was three to five.

Applications/conclusions: Dietetics professionals need to be aware that caregivers who perceive their child as a picky eater are evident across gender, ethnicity, and household incomes. When offering a new food, mothers need to provide many more repeated exposures (eg, eight to 15 times) to enhance acceptance of that food than they currently do.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Decision Making
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Feeding and Eating Disorders / ethnology
  • Female
  • Food Preferences* / ethnology
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Prevalence
  • Time Factors