Parent Expectations and Picky Eating

Posted By Jill Castle, MS, RDN, Pediatric Nutritionist
December 27, 2013

Picky eating is a hot topic, and I bet if you have a picky eater, you spend a lot of time fretting about what he is eating (or not eating). You may even be spending lots of energy to “get” him to eat.

I believe one of the reasons picky eating overtakes the dinner table (and overcomes the parent) relates to how the parent responds to the picky eater.

Take this scenario:

Three-year-old Danny comes to the table and starts to fuss when he sees chicken and green beans. Even though his mom has Ranch dressing on hand as an enticing dip, Danny refuses to try anything and opts to drink milk. Danny seems content to sit at the table, but is completely uninterested in eating.

Dad says, “C’mon Danny, let’s try a bite of beans. Dip it in the dressing! It’s so yummy that way!”

Danny continues to refuse but has quieted down and even appears drowsy.

Mom looks at Dad and gets up and grabs some applesauce and a spoon and tries to offer Danny a bite from the spoon, at which point he starts to get fussy again.

She then gets up and gets Danny’s favorite yogurt. No luck.

Dad raises his voice slightly, with clear frustration, and asks his wife, “What can we give him? He needs to eat something!”

Both parents are upset and worried and Danny starts to wail.

Dinner has turned into a disaster.

Believe it or not, scenarios like this are happening all over the country: kids not eating well at mealtime, parents worrying and pulling all the stops to “get” their child to eat.

Perhaps the problem lies in “getting” the child to eat or the expectation that a certain food or an amount must be consumed for the meal to be a success. When parents entice, bribe, reward, or substitute food for the meal—just to “get” the child to eat—it often backfires, ending in a meltdown, a negative experience, and maybe even with the child learning to eat for the wrong reason: a parent’s expectation rather than appetite.

What are your expectations with your child’s eating?

About Jill Castle, MS, RDN, Pediatric Nutritionist

Jill Castle is a Bundoo Nutritionist.


  1. Hmmm… This sounds like dinner at my house every night. Our expectation is that our daughter (4-years-old) try a bite of the foods on her plate. If it is something new, we have to prompt her to try them and it’s not always pretty. She is not a huge eater and has a low appetite at dinner (high at breakfast). She would hardly eat a thing if we let her. I’m wondering if we should rethink our expectations? If she goes to bed hungry often enough, will she learn to eat?


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