Frustrated by your child's choosy eating? A new app and study just might help.

By Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
ARIMAG/Shutterstock

Wish you could see inside the mind of your little picky eater? There's an app for that!

Researchers at New York University have developed a new app called When to Wonder: Picky Eating that's designed to help you better understand your child's picky eating—while helping them study the food preferences and emotions of kids across the country.

The app is part of research being done at NYU Langone Health's Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. The study is open to all parents in the US with kids younger than seven. Both the app and study are free, and the app is only available to parents taking part in the study.

Available for both Apple and Android devices, the app includes activities like the Yucky/Yummy game, where your child views photos of different foods and swipes right or left (Tinder-style!) to show whether she rates it thumbs-up or thumbs-down. During the game, the microphone records what your child says so the researchers can study how kids' verbal reactions to food relate to his emotions and behaviors.

There are activities for parents too. You play the same food-sorting swipe game to guess the foods your child likes (then compare answers). You also rate how picky your child is (and how picky you are!) on a scale of 1-100 and answer questions like whether your child looks forward to mealtime or whether he enjoys tasting new foods. As you complete the games and activities, the app gives you simple tips and ideas to support your child's eating.

The games and activities range from 15 seconds to 10 minutes. You can decide whether you want to do them, there's no timeline to complete them, and you can skip any questions you don't want to answer. (You can also withdraw from the study at any time.)

The researchers, who hope to enroll 10,000 parent-child pairs in the study, are working to answer an elusive question when it comes to picky eating: What's normal? The researchers want to study the range of behavior so they can find the line between what's typical for young kids and when there's cause for concern. And unlike some studies that rely on parent reports of what their kids like and eat, this research gets the info directly from children themselves.

They're also hoping the study leads to shared understanding between parents and kids when it comes to picky eating. "We're looking for ways that parents and children can engage with each other and learn from each other," says Helen Egger, MD, chair of the Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and co-director of the WonderLab at NYU Langone. "We want to give you information about your child to increase your understanding."

Though my younger son (at 10) is outside the study window, the researchers let us play around with the app, and he had a ball swiping left and right for the food-sorting game. I was surprised by some of the foods he "yucked" and "yummed", which led to conversations about different foods--and inspired me to give a few of them another go.

Intrigued? Download the app and learn more about the study. If you enroll, you'll also have the option of participating in future studies. The researchers say they're hoping to look at other common challenges in early childhood via the app platform, like temper tantrums, anxiety, and sleep.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.

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