When parents tell us their child is a picky eater, we often reassure them that this is “normal,” and they’ll grow out of it. But what do we really know about picky eating and emotional regulation? Fernandez et al (2019-2018) share with us a latent class analysis of picky eating trajectories identified by following over 300 mother-child dyads annually from ages 4 to 9 years of age. Mothers provided emotional regulation information at baseline and a wide array of related information over the next 5 years. The study identified three different trajectories for picky eating—persistently low or minimal picky eating (29% of the cohort), persistently medium (57%) and persistently high (14%). It is this last group that was also associated with high child emotional lability and lower emotional regulation. In addition, the authors found that the persistently low picky eaters experience lower amounts of restrictive feeding by their mother and persistently higher picky eating was associated with high demandingness feeding behavior.
So, what does this all mean and what can we do about it? We asked Drs. Nancy Zucker from Duke University and Sheryl Hughes from Baylor College of Medicine to share with us their take on this study in an accompanying commentary (2020-0893). The authors make the point that we should not just write off picky eating as normal depending on the trajectory and provide some interesting hypotheses as to what might be contributing to the persistently high versus low picky eating trajectory ensuing. Drs. Zucker and Hughes also offer us some guidance to prevent picky eaters from moving onto the worrisome trajectory through an approach you might never have considered before. Rather than reveal more of the fascinating information contained in the study and commentary, I hope you will do more than just pick over what I have shared and instead fully digest the full meal of both the study and commentary, so you can be better able to help those picky eaters in your practice.