Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters

When it comes to snack and meal time, some kids can be hard to please. Follow these helpful tips to ensure they are getting proper nutrition.

For You

  • Keep mealtime positive.
  • Ignore negative behavior whenever possible.
  • Never bribe or reward your child to eat, and never use food as a bribe, reward or punishment (especially dessert); keep food neutral.
  • Never punish your child for not eating.
  • Give children two reasonable food choices as time, convenience and situation allow.
  • Never be a short-order cook; let your kids help plan menus and stick to this nonnegotiable menu. Serve one meal for the whole family; modify it (size of foods, texture or portion size) for your toddler or preschooler.
  • Avoid a power struggle and never battle over food. If your child refuses to eat (doesn’t like the food, is not hungry, or not feeling well), never force him/her to eat or punish him/her for not eating.
  • Help your child develop a healthy body image by modeling good eating habits. Set a good example by eating a variety of healthful foods every day. Be a great role model for eating and downplay dieting, calorie counting and food phobias.
  • Keep calm about spills and messes.
  • Be sure to take time to serve and eat breakfast with your kids.
  • Don’t worry about picky eaters. Kids tend to get what they need over a week’s worth of meals.
  • Check your own attitude about food. Make sure you are not transferring a dieting obsession or pickiness about food to your child.
  • Be assured that your child is developing normally by tracking your child’s steady growth on his pediatric healthcare provider’s growth chart.
  • When your child refuses a food, substitute another food within the same food group and relax.
  • Avoid succumbing to food games and whims. No dinner theater and do not let your child manipulate you into over indulgences, like, “Just one more ________.”
  • Plan an interesting after-dinner activity if your child dawdles over the meal.
  • Stay calm and avoid overreacting to your picky eater. Your child senses your stress. Remember, it’s what and how much your child eats over a week, not at each meal, that counts.
  • Refrain from taking pickiness personally.

For Your Child

  • Have a quiet time before meals to let kids calm themselves and they will eat better.
  • Turn off the television during mealtime to cut down on distractions and make the most of conversation.
  • Schedule meals so kids can eat every three to four hours. This helps body clocks regulate and also helps children learn what it feels like to be hungry and full.
  • Expect kids to leave food on their plates; never require kids to clean their plates.
  • Allow your young child to experiment with taste and textures by feeling his/her food and enjoying the sensory experiences.
  • Eat together as a family, so children see others enjoying their food and healthful eating patterns.
  • Let children self-regulate by deciding how much they eat and when they’ve had enough.
  • Take your child out of the high chair or excuse him/her from the table when he/she has clearly lost interest in eating.
  • Let kids help in food preparation – shopping, cooking and serving food. Start by giving them simple jobs and get them cooking.
  • Let older kids serve themselves from family-style serving dishes.

For The Food

  • Serve simple foods, so kids can try one flavor at a time.
  • Stimulate interest by varying shapes, sizes and textures.
  • Offer a balanced, wide variety of nutritious foods. Continue to offer different fruits and vegetables. If not forced to eat them, kids will often try them over time.
  • Serve child-sized portions. It’s better to serve less and have your child ask for more, than to overwhelm him/her with too much food on his/her plate.
  • Introduce new foods in tiny portions.
  • Serve a familiar, happy food or two along with a new food.
  • Serve your child nutritious snacks two or three times a day (just not right before a meal), and make them count as healthful munchies.
  • Make meals appetizing with lots of eye appeal.
  • Remember, a food may be served at least 10 times before a picky eater will eat that food in an acceptable portions.
  • Allow treats as one of life’s simple pleasures. Just balance these times with wise food choices and physical activity.