There's a reason why foods like buttered noodles and chicken fingers are clichéd children's menu staples: Lots of kids aren't particularly open-minded when it comes to eating, and some of them are downright picky. But as common as this behavior can be, it's also a little scary for parents. After all, frozen waffles and cheese sticks don't exactly constitute a "balanced diet." A child whose daily meals revolve around five foods can't possibly be getting all the nutrition she needs for proper growth, can she? So what are some signs your picky kid isn't getting enough nutrients?
While kids who live on bland, processed fare might be taking in enough calories (then again, they might not be), that doesn't mean they're getting all the other stuff they need to grow. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that 3-year-old "picky eaters" had lower levels of carotene, iron, and zinc than "non-picky" eaters. (Interestingly, picky eaters were shown to have higher "free sugar intake," which perhaps isn't that surprising when you consider how processed some "kid-friendly" foods can be.)
"As a pediatric feeding therapist, I work closely with Registered Dieticians when I suspect that a picky eater may getting poor nutrition that’s impacting his health," pediatric feeding specialist and author of kid-friendly cookbook Adventures in Veggieland Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP tells Romper.
"Adequate amounts of zinc and iron are always in questions for me, especially if I see kids who appear tired, cranky or have low appetite."
Any of that sound familiar? Read on for more info on what to watch for if you suspect your child's diet isn't diverse enough (and what it means). But bear in mind, not all nutritional deficiencies are easy to spot. As James M. Greenblatt, Chief Medical Officer at Walden Behavioral Care (a national eating disorders treatment provider) tells Romper, "It is difficult to detect vitamin deficiencies simply by looking at your child. If you are concerned because your child has had a restrictive diet for an extended period of time, it is best to follow up with your pediatrician who can do a simple blood test to assess what vitamin and mineral deficiencies are present."
And when you call your pediatrician, be sure to mention if any of the following symptoms listed below are present.