How to Satisfy a Picky Eater

06/18/2015 12:24 pm ET | Updated Jun 18, 2016


Is your child a picky eater?

Satisfying your picker eater is difficult but manageable. How you deal with it depends on their age, your time constraints, and your food likes and dislikes. Have you considered that as a parent you play a major role the behavior of your child? If one or both of the parents openly state what they don't like to eat, or what they won't eat, your child will pick up on this and emulate your behavior. With the child's limited exposure to various food or their immature taste buds, the child's reactions will be more severe than yours, but it is still a learned trait.

A story from Body, Mind, & Mouth:

One client, a busy attorney with a young son, said she likes the ease of fast-food restaurants. Besides, she said, she had not felt the need to be as thin as a super-model, so she had believed she could eat fast food regularly. However, now, she is concerned because fast food is the only dinner her five-year-old son will eat! In addition, she has been steadily gaining weight due to this lifestyle choice. Finally, she realized that she is a super-model... to her son! Children model the behavior of their parents and only know what is familiar to them. My client was modeling poor food choices and an overweight existence.

This client truly could not understand why her son would only eat fast food options and didn't realize the role she played in his food choices and health. She truly believed she was saving precious time in her busy day and never considered the ill effects to herself and her son.

Is your child modeling a parent's behavior? Do you complain about certain food items or state that you do not eat something? Keep that information to yourself; your kids are listening.

Your picky eaters want to eat food he/she enjoys and are reluctant to eat or sample new food. Children also want to eat what they see in the commercials on TV, and once they begin eating sugary items, they usually want more of the same.

Work with your picky eaters. Keep your strategies age-appropriate and take simple steps for you both because you want your kids to eat nutritious food.

  • Many children don't like vegetables. They may like only one or two. Serve them the ones they like, or make a platter of cut-up fresh vegetables with a dip. Let them eat the cold vegetables with their hot meal. If they won't eat vegetables at all, serve fruit with dinner.
  • Take your child to the food store and have them choose a food they will eat while you also choose a food you want them to eat. Encourage them to eat both. Never say one food is bad for you and one is good for you, just get them to eat it together. Children need to see and taste a food item numerous times before they will enjoy it. Negotiate. As they age, you can add to the list.
  • Let them be a decision maker in their eating. For example, if they like pretzels and celery with dinner rather than broccoli and a potato, let them have their choice. Of course you may draw the line with cookies or candy, but give them another option. As the family eats the broccoli and potatoes, with encouragement, they will, too, someday.
  • Include your children's tastes when grocery shopping. Stop buying what no one will eat because it's considered healthy. It's not a healthy meal if dinner time ends in fighting, and food goes into the garbage.
  • Just because you like something doesn't mean your child will, too. Everyone has different tastes.
  • If there is one food that they like, serve it often.
  • They don't have to eat nutritiously every day. Think of it as a weekly goal rather than a daily goal.
  • Try not to pull them away from a favorite activity to eat. They will resent eating.
  • Don't make a big deal if your child does not want to eat. Children will eat when they get hungry, and young children have not yet learned to eat for emotional reasons.
  • If your child's eating habits are a concern of yours, make sure you speak with your pediatrician.

Picky eaters differ from those with medical restrictions or allergic reactions. At some level everyone is a picky eater, some more severe than others. Picky eaters will change their likes as time passes or as they are introduced to different food and tastes. But that time-frame is up to the individual. The one thing parents must continually remember is how your actions are perceived and interpreted by your child. They will model you.