It’s official: you’ve got a confirmed picky eater. Now what do you do? Here are some DOs and DON’Ts when it comes to managing your little ones and their eating habits.
Do these with your picky eater:
- Keep a smile on your face, and have a positive attitude. Even when you are frustrated, overwhelmed, or angry, your young child should not see you lose your cool because this may charge the situation and tempt your toddler to keep getting negative reactions out of you.
- Offer balanced, nutritious, appealing meals and snacks. These will cover your child’s nutrient requirements and allow her to see many different foods, which is part of readying her to try new foods.
- Keep the food variety coming, even if your child rejects it. Studies show it takes some children 6 to 15 food exposures before they will try or like a food.
- Stay on a meal and snack schedule. This is your ace in the hole! Staying on a schedule means your child will have plenty of opportunities to eat during the day, which takes the pressure off when he or she skips a meal.
- Try new foods. Eventually, your child will probably be excited about new and different foods, especially if he or she is conditioned to see a variety of unfamiliar foods early on.
- Allow self-feeding, even if it is messy. This is the control your child wants. Letting kids self-feed often changes the dynamic around mealtime, making your child more interested in eating and mealtime more pleasant.
- Require your child stay at the table during meals (even if he or she doesn’t eat). While your child doesn’t have to eat, he or she does need to learn to politely stay at the table while others are finishing their meals.
- Reassure your child. If your child decides not to eat, let him or her know when the next meal or snack is scheduled.
Don’t do these with your picky eater:
- Show your emotions. No anger, frustration, or annoyance! Your goal is to be steady and not react to any antics. Your child will respond based on your reactions.
- Cater to your child’s preferences. Don’t narrow the menu to what your child will eat, or you will get stuck doing this possibly for many years! You can make sure one or two items on the menu are foods your child likes or is familiar with, but the rest of the menu should reflect good nutrition and balance.
- Be a sneaky chef. Hiding food in other foods can build distrust in children.
- Push your child to eat more. Pushing extra bites or sips often backfires, especially when children are picky. Rather than eat more, they may dig in their heels and resist.
- Nag to try something new. The effect is the same as pushing for more eating.
- Reward your child with dessert or other food. While this can be an effective tactic in getting your child to eat something you want him to, over time, research has shown it doesn’t help children like food. In fact, it helps children favor the reward, which is often dessert.
- Punish or discipline your child for not eating. Children can develop a negative association with eating and food when they are punished for not eating certain foods.
- Feed him or her (force-feeding). This takes all control away from your child, and most children do not respond well to force-feeding or parents taking control of feeding, especially as they get older.
- Label your child “picky.” Children live up to expectations. If you label your child picky, he or she will be more likely to live up to it.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, September 2020
- How you react to picky eating can curtail it or give it a life of its own.
- Many of the tactics parents use to get their child to eat backfire, causing more problems and resistance.
- Be patient with picky eating, it usually resolves with time, a good attitude, and positive feeding.