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Do you have a picky eater at home?
Do you struggle with a picky eater? You are not alone! Picky eating is one of the most common parts of toddlerhood. If you have a picky eater at home and are feeling stressed at meal time or like you are failing as a parent, please know this is completely normal. Picky eating is a developmental stage! How you react to this stage will impact how long your picky eater stays picky. Most of the time, picky eating starts to go away by around 6 years. Some kids, however, continue to be picky eaters longer.
“One more bite/clean your plate” makes picky eating worse
Early childhood is a critical time for learning behaviors and patterns. When this is applied to food, our interactions with our kids around mealtimes can influence their feeding practices for the rest of their lives. This includes their thoughts and feelings toward particular foods, their ability to listen to their bodies, and to self-regulate their intake.
Help your picky kids eat more variety without negative feeding tactics. Download this picky eating guide to help.
When you are telling your child they must take one bite or that they can't have dessert until they clean their plate, you are telling them two things:
- They should finish their food even if they are no longer hungry
- Their dessert is worth more than their food because it is a reward for eating something they don't want
Both of these things can strain your child's relationship with the food they eat. In a study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, controlling feeding practices were associated with negative outcomes related to both child eating and weight.
I still remember sitting at the table as a child long after the meal ended with three sad green beans on my plate. Any tactic that could be used to get out of eating them I tried. I finally resorted to plugging my nose and swallowing them whole. You know what? I still dislike green beans.
The taste and smell of them take me back to those days sitting at the table for hours. They were the only food I can remember being forced to eat and they are one of the only foods I still do not like. Sound familiar?
Are you over controlling your child’s food intake?
Parents and caregivers often feel that controlling the feeding environment by making kids finish their plates, is the best way to get them to eat. Some parents don’t even realize they are controlling, they just want their kiddos to eat.
Many parents feel that if they don't eat enough of their food, they won't grow well. However, this is rarely the case. Creating a healthy feeding environment vs. a controlling one is critical to the development of positive feeding behaviors. This also minimizes picky eating or the duration that picky eating lasts and ultimately is more beneficial for growth and nutrition.
Healthy feeding practices reduce stress and pressure around meals and allow children to learn how to self-regulate their appetite.
"When children feel less pressured at meals, they tend to make better food choices, be more adventurous eaters and be less of a picky eater."
If you want to start making some positive changes, here are 1o ways you can start improving your child's relationship with food and decrease picky eating.
10 simple ways to reduce picking eating
- Model healthy eating practices, if you have other children who are adventurous eaters, they can be a model for their younger siblings too!
- Encourage children to try new foods by providing the opportunity to play, learn, and become comfortable with new food. Not by encouraging them to eat it.
- Never force a child to eat something that they do not want to eat. It doesn't help and it isn't worth it!
- Do not withhold dessert or another food item in exchange for eating food they don't want to eat.
- If your child doesn't want to eat something, tell them "that's okay, you don't have to" and try it again another time.
- Allow children to stop when they are full, no matter what the food is. Don't encourage them to "take one more bite" or clean their plate.
- Remain calm at mealtimes, avoid raising your voice or making demands/negotiations about food. If the meal is getting stressful, take a deep breath and listen to your child's concern, even if it seems ridiculous at the time. Remember, no reaction is the best reaction 🙂
- Include food in sensory games, craft projects or in books to increase familiarity. Exposing them to foods even when they are not eating them is creating comfort.
- A touch, lick or smell of food they don't like is a win!
- Provide consistency of meal and snack times and avoid grazing between those times so kids come to the table with a belly ready to eat.
Do you wish your kids were open to eating new foods?
Let me help you make that happen! Join the Grow A Healthy Eater Community and I'll walk you through the process step by step.
8 thoughts on “Picky Eater At Home? Try These Simple Changes”
This is very helpful; thank you! What should the response be when your child asks for something right after dinner (fruit or yogurt in our case), but they only ate a few bites of their dinner? So they’re still hungry, but just don’t want what’s offered (even though I always offer something my daughter reliably eats along with other items). I struggle with how to respond. Thank you!
Great question. I usually recommend having set meal and snack times, you decide what is served at those times. If dinner was served and little was eaten you can remind them that they don’t have to eat what you served but that the next snack time wont be until X. If you have dinner at 5 pm and bedtime is 8 pm, maybe you make 7 pm snacktime and give an option at that time. You could include fruit or yogurt at that snack time (or a different option) generally if you know little was eaten at a meal, I recommend choosing a nutritious, balanced snack that includes something you know they will eat. Does this make sense? The goal is to set boundaries around meals and snacks so they are not just deciding they get to eat what they want when they want.
Thank you! That’s very helpful. I’ll try it tonight. I’ve been doing some sort of “it’s not time for your bedtime snack yet; it’s still dinner time somif you’re hungry, eat your dinner” but it’s been teetering on negotiation and I can tell it’s starting to stress out both my daughter and me a little bit. Thanks again!
Thanks for the great tips! I was wondering what your advice is for picky eating as a 1.5 year old. I know she is still learning and trying to figure out what foods she enjoys but she literally only eats bread (toast/pb & j), noodles, most fruits, yogurt/cheese, fruit & veggie pouches occasionally but not consistently oatmeal, tortillas and eggs . So dinner is super tough. I don’t know what to do, I give her what I make for dinner and she usually just throws it all over and then will eat what she likes – fruit, sometimes those pouches after dinner (an hour or so). Would you recommend to continue this pattern until she starts actually eating dinner?
1.5 years is the very first stages of that picky eating phase. The boundaries you set up now can really help how intense it gets. When you make dinner, try to include 1-2 things that you know she will eat (could be milk, fruit, bread, noodles, etc.) let her eat what she wants of those (even if she only eats those). It sounds like she has a decent variety of preferred foods based on what you said. Then keep offering new things at meals. keep expectations low at dinner if she is on the fussier side at night. Maybe try introducing more new things earlier in the day? Also, try not to give the fruit pouches after dinner. That could create a pattern where she learns that if she doesn’t eat dinner she knows she will get a pouch. Instead, maybe schedule a healthy snack before bed, especially if bed is more than 2-3 hours from dinner time.
What about older kids who have been picky their whole life? New foods are presented along with a preferred food, healthy eating is modeled every day, they are involved in shopping and cooking (sometimes), they enjoy growing food. But, at 10 years old, they still refuse most vegetables and won’t touch pasta if it has any type of sauce on it (even a creamy cheesy sauce and they eat mac & cheese). They won’t (or can’t) tell me why there is a wall up with trying things. Maybe twice a year a small bite will be taken of a cucumber or a bell pepper but they would never even consider biting into something they haven’t had since it was pureed in infancy. I feel like I follow all of these recommendations and none of them work…
I know it can be really frustrating, especially when you feel like you are doing all the right things. The ultimate goal is to set them up for a healthy food relationship so they can make good decisions as they grow into adulthood. It sounds like you are doing your part. You can’t force your kids to eat. If you have specific nutrition or growth concerns, I would encourage you to meet 1:1 with a pediatric RD who can assess in more detail. A lot of it is laying the foundation and give them space to get there when they are ready. Happy to chat more individualized if you feel like you need more help.