How to Combat Picky Eaters

I’ve often heard, “My child is so picky! He won’t eat anything!” This can be very frustrating for parents and can lead them down a road of constant struggles. It is important to remember that children’s food likes and dislikes change as they continue to grow and develop. As a parent or caregiver, it is your responsibility to lead your child to the table for meals, but you cannot make them eat. Children should learn to develop their own “hungry” and “full” signals. This means that we should allow their appetite to guide what foods they choose at meals and how much.

How to combat picky eaters

Ellyn Satter, dietitian, therapist, and author, is well-known to parents and professionals as an expert in pediatric nutrition. Satter separates mealtimes into 2 categories:

Parent’s feeding jobs:

  • Choose and prepare the food
  • Provide regular meals and snacks
  • Make eating times pleasant
  • Show children by example how to behave at mealtime
  • Be considerate of children’s lack of food experience without catering to likes and dislikes
  • Offer no food or beverages (except water) between meal and snack times
  • Let children grow to develop bodies that are right for them

Children’s eating jobs:

  • Children will eat
  • Children will eat the amount they need
  • They will learn to eat the food their parents eat
  • They will grow predictably
  • They will learn to behave well at mealtime

Satter states that when parents feed accordingly, children gradually accumulate attitudes and behaviors that characterize adult Eating Competence. With Eating Competence, children can feel good about eating and they have the drive to eat. They naturally eat the amount of food that they need and grow in a way that is appropriate for them.

Try these tips to make the most of Any Mealtime…

Develop a meal and snack routine. It is important that children take time to eat their meal or snack by sitting at the table without distractions. This allows them to enjoy their food and gives them sufficient time to explore tastes and textures.

When introducing new foods, it is important to remember that this is a skill that children learn gradually. It generally takes time and repeated exposure for a child to learn to eat new foods. To learn to eat a new food, children watch adults eat. They will generally look, touch, taste, and spit out new foods. New foods may have to be presented 15-20 times before a child learns to eat it. Patience is key!

Children can also be engaged in healthy food purchases at the store. While picking out foods, explain why that food is healthy for our bodies. The more involved children are with food, the more likely they will be to try and adopt these foods.

Lastly, children love new things. Consider special bowls or eating utensils that will make their dining experience special and exciting!

Alana Scopel


Interested in learning more?

Join us for Doctor Is In, a free lecture open to the public  on Wednesday, February 3rd featuring three Springfield Clinic dietitians.

  • Time: 6:30pm
  • Location: Springfield Clinic Main Campus EAST, 2nd Floor ASC waiting area
    1025 S 6th St, Springfield

Register today!

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