How To Handle Picky Eaters

News alert: There is only one time in your children’s lives when you have full control over what and how much they eat—and that ends at birth. After those fleeting nine months, parents often feel frustrated or anxious about what their children eat. In fact, up to 50% of parents say their preschool child is a picky eater. Read on for what to do—and not do—with picky eaters.

Picky eater tip No. 1: Let kids explore their food.  

Imagine sitting down to eat a meal from a foreign country. Would you dive right in? Kids approach foods much like you might approach new, exotic foods. They want to smell it. Touch it. Squeeze it. Give it to the dog. And maybe, after examining it, they might taste it. Children who “play” with their food are learning about it. It does not mean they do not like their food or that they are a picky eater—they just want to learn about it first. What should a wise parent do? Let kids learn about their food without comment. That is the first step to your child trying it.

Picky eater tip No. 2: Do not bribe or push your children to eat.

Now, imagine being served a big plate of grasshoppers. Tempting? Would you be more willing to try the grasshopper… 

  • If you were told it was good for you?
  • If you were told you couldn’t leave the table until you finished it? 
  • If you were promised dessert for taking two bites?

Promises and threats will not work for you—or your children. Wise parents trust their child to know how much to eat. No pushing or bribing needed.

Picky eater tip No. 3: Enjoy light and lively conversation while eating.

Everything tastes better when mealtimes are pleasant—even foods that might not be our favorite. Sit together as a family and enjoy relaxed, light conversations. While some basic behavior rules are needed, mealtimes should be a time to connect as a family, not a war zone of critical comments or commands on how much to eat.

Picky eater tip No. 4: Relax, do not react, when your child chooses not to eat.

Children are likely to go through phases where they assert their independence and decide not to eat. What should a caring parent do? Relax. Continue doing your job—serving meals and snacks—and trust your child to decide how much to eat—if anything. Children will not starve but if you have concerns about your child’s size, check with your health care provider.

Picky eater tip No. 5: Offer water—not milk, juice or snacks—between meals.  

Children who snack throughout the day may appear to be a picky eater at mealtime, but they might just be full. Try to stick to a routine of three meals a day with only water between meals. Milk, juice and snacks between meals lead to picky eaters at mealtimes. (Toddlers may need a small afternoon or bedtime snack.)

Picky eater tip No. 6: Offer small amounts of new foods. 

Large portions of food can be overwhelming to children. Start with a few tablespoons of food—about a tablespoon for each year of age—and add more if your child asks for it.

Picky eater tip No. 7: Minimize distractions.

Children have limited attention spans. Food is often forgotten when screens appear, especially when they see advertising that might be promoting sugary foods.

What will you do this week to ease your frustration with picky eating?

  • Let kids learn about their food without any comments from me
  • Do not push my kids to eat
  • Trust my children to know how much food to eat
  • Keep mealtimes happy and enjoy light conversation 
  • Offer only water between meals, not milk, juice or snacks
  • Offer small amounts of food and add more when asked
  • Make mealtimes screen free

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