Picky eaters are one of the most common feeding problems I am asked about in my pediatric practice. How many times have you faced these scenarios in your home:
- the toddler who takes two bites of food and then says “all done”
- the child who will only eat five varieties of food and so you prepare those foods day after day
- the child who says he wants food x, then after you prepare food x, he states he wants food y, and then after you get food y, he says, “No” he wants food z now.
- having daily mealtime battles where you find yourself bribing, coaxing and nagging bites of food into your child’s mouth
If this sounds like your household, then read on to discover tricks on how to deal with the picky eater. Click here to get also about The Overeater.
The first goal to is to not create mealtime battles. Battles at the dinner table will usually only make a picky eater pickier. It’s not worth the battle! Realize that toddlers in that 1 to 3 year range have small appetites and don’t seem to need to eat as much. Also, life is just too exciting and there are higher priorities around other than sitting at the dinner table. As you see in all aspects of a toddler’s behavior, they are seeking a new level of independence and control. If you are trying to control them from touching the TV set, they see it as a game will try to do it and look right at you. If you are trying to control every bite of food, they see it as their job to do the opposite.
If you are dealing with older children, you need to set up some guidelines. The one bite rule can be effective for most kids. They need to at least try the bite of all foods offered, and if they don’t like it, they don’t need to eat more. As parents, we have to hide our concern about whether they eat it or not. Another game to play is the allowing them to choose to eat three of the foods offered at the meal. One of the biggest problems I see develop are those parents who make the separate “kid” and “adult” meal every night. If this is you, then make some changes! Explain to your child that it is time for them to eat the things that you are eating. Be neutral in your reaction the first few nights of eating if they are refusing foods. Don’t battle. Try to have one or two things that you know they might eat (rice, bread, fruit, soup) and then sit back and see what happens. Remarkably, most children will gradually come around to expanding their horizons.
Below are numerous ideas for encouraging the picky eater:
- Never coax, bribe, punish, nag. Avoid the battles! Hide your anxiety and concern about eating!
- Keep introducing new foods over again. Don’t avoid it just because they didn’t like it once, they may change their mind.
- Don’t worry about food fads or food strikes.
- Don’t place more value on any one food on the plate.
- Don’t dictate how much you think your child should eat. Let your child decide how much they will eat.
- Use the one-bite rule. Encourage gently to try all foods on the plate. If they don’t like it, that’s fine.
- Don’t rush through the meals, some children are just slow eaters.
- Sometimes creating games with food can be fun for older kids (we don’t want to create a choking hazard for younger kids who can’t control the food in their mouth as well). Asparagus or green bean races, where they grab one asparagus or green bean and see who can fit it in their mouth first can make foods disappear. For those baby carrots in a bag where the bag is partly open, try to see who can extract a carrot without touching the plastic bag.
- Change your buying habits if you find your child is “stuck on” certain unhealthy foods.
- Offer fruits as dessert. Use it on its own as dessert or add it to ice cream, pudding or cake. Make your own fruit popsicles (have your child help you, it will have more value to them) out of fresh fruit, yogurt, juice or milk.
- Try not to use dessert as a reward.
- Avoid lots of juices, sodas and milk as substitutes for eating real food.
- Avoid frequent snacking habits. Avoid snacks in the car or while standing around and playing. Use the snack plan for older kids.
- Supplement with a healthy yogurt smoothie.
- Disguise foods and combine foods they like with those they don’t like.
- Try not to use dessert as a reward. For those stubborn kids who try to hold out for dessert, offer dessert with the main meal. Of course, make sure it is a small, reasonable serving. Most kids will not get full with a small dessert and then they are free to “indulge” in the rest of the meal.