What to Do About Picky Eating

Do you have a picky eater at home? If mealtimes are a struggle, try these tips to help your child develop better eating habits. You can use these tips for a child of any age. It’s never too late to start having a healthier and more enjoyable mealtime.  

Top 10 tips for picky eaters:  

1. Plan family mealtimeEat meals at the table as a family. Do not offer food while your child is playing, watching television or walking around. 
2. Be a role model. Your child will eat better and be more willing to try new foods if she sees others at the table eating the same foods. Family members, including older brothers and sisters, are important role models for healthy eating. 
3. Eat at regular times. Offer three meals and up to three snacks at regular times each day. Offer only water between meals and snacks. This will keep your child hydrated and will also make sure that she doesn’t fill up before mealtime. This way she will come to the table hungry. 

4. Promote happy mealtimes. Your child will eat better if she is enjoying mealtime. Children are more likely to have a happy mealtime if you don’t pressure them to eat. 
5. Avoid distractions. Meals and snacks should be served away from distractions like the television or computer. Mealtime is for eating and interacting with the family. Do not have toys at the table or on your child’s tray. Leave toys, books, television and music for playtime before or after meals. 
6. Prepare one meal for the family. Make sure you offer food in the age-appropriate texture and size of pieces for your child. Remember it is the parent or caregiver’s job to offer the food and it is your child’s decision whether they will eat it or not. Your child will be more willing to try new foods if she knows she will not get her favorite foods when she refuses dinner. 
7. Listen to your child. Trust that your child knows when she is hungry and full. 
8. Don’t pressure, praise, reward, trick or punish. Children who want to be independent will not eat well if they feel pressure. Allow your child to decide if or how much she will eat from the foods offered. Trust that she will eat if she is hungry. 
9. Try, try again. Continue offering new foods even if your child has said no to them before. Offer these foods on different days, at different meals and in different recipes. It can take as many as 10 times for a child to try a food and like it. Don’t give up! 
10. Limit mealtime. Allow your child a maximum of 30 minutes to eat the meal. After this time put the food away and let your child leave the table. Offer food again at the next scheduled meal or snack time. Extending mealtime too long will not make your child more likely to eat and does not create a healthy and happy eating environment. 

How to Get Kids to Eat Healthy

We want the best nutrition for our kids, but our daily pleas to “Eat your vegetables” seem to fall on deaf ears, or worse yet result in a tantrum or other power struggle.  Can we really convince our children to make smart food choices and eat healthy without seeming like a wicked witch? 

Here’s how to get kids to eat healthy by using these three tips: 

  1. Control the cupboard by stocking it with healthy choices.  It’s much easier for your kids to make smart snacking decisions when the unhealthy foods are not in the house.  Keep your pantry full of your children’s favorite fruits, vegetables, and other wholesome foods right at an eye level and leave the sweet stuff on the store shelves. 
  1. Offer options as you plan your meals, letting your kids have some say in what they’ll be eating.  Chicken or fish?  Peas or carrots?    
  1. Avoid the arguments that lead to power struggles over food.  However much we beg, bribe, or outright demand, can force our kids to eat.  On the contrary, these efforts actually encourage our kids to wage dinnertime battles by rewarding them with attention.  Remove that payoff by letting your child know in advance that you won’t respond to his refusal to eat, and that you also won’t be giving him more food until the next scheduled snack or meal – even if it’s breakfast.  He won’t starve overnight, but next dinnertime, he will remember the consequence of not eating. 

With a little planning and cooperation, your family will be on the Yellow-Brick Road to healthier eating habits and fewer mealtime fights.