10 Tips to Deal with Picky Eaters

photo of a child refusing to eatEating dinner with your family is one of the most important things you can do together. Dinnertime presents a great opportunity to spend quality time with children and catch up on their day. But enjoying a meal can be difficult when your child is a picky eater and doesn’t want to eat what’s on the menu.

It may be hard to resist, but parents should avoid a battle of wills with a picky eater because it leads to a power struggle fueled by punishment. Instead, respect your child’s hunger – or lack thereof. If children aren’t hungry, don’t force them to eat. Also, remember that it doesn’t take much for children to feel full, so boycott the “clean plate club” and encourage your child to stop when he or she is satisfied.

Children like to be in control, especially at mealtime. When encouraging your child to eat, keep these tips in mind:

  1. A taste is just a taste! It’s ok for a child to only have a bite or two of a new food, even if it is spit out.
  2. Repeat disliked foods. It may take a child up to 15 tries of a new food to acquire a taste for it.
  3. Involve your child in food preparation. Your child will be much more likely to try a food they had a hand in choosing and preparing.
  4. Do not force-feed your child. This will turn into a power struggle and may lead to your child trying and eating fewer foods. It is best not to acknowledge poor behavior but give praise for good behavior.
  5. Set a good example. You are your child’s best role model. Model the behaviors you would like to see them adopt.
  6. Remove distractions at mealtime. Eat meals seated at the table with no TV.
  7. Do not use food as a method of discipline or reward. Food should be a source of nutrition, not a means for behavior modification.
  8. Limit drinks before and during a meal. Drinking too much can cause your child to feel full, resulting in less interest in food.
  9. Serve child-sized portions. Smaller portions will be much less intimidating for your child and less frustrating for you.
  10. Make mealtimes fun! It may get messy, and that’s ok. Always end on a positive note. Mealtimes are about more than just food; it’s a time to connect with your child and help them to develop in many different ways.

Remember: You are responsible for providing nutritious food at regular times; your child is responsible for deciding how much to eat.

Getting your child involved in preparing the meal can help them get excited to eat it. At the grocery store, let them help pick out the items on your shopping list. When you get home, have kids rinse fruits or vegetables, stir ingredients or set the table to make them feel like they are an important part of mealtime.

Mealtime isn’t only about getting the nutrition you need – it can be fun, too. Eat breakfast for dinner for a change. Use cookie cutters to make different shapes out of food. Shake things up with dips or sauces. Add fruits or vegetables to your child’s favorite foods so they can get the nutrition they need without knowing it.

Keep learning with us

Between our Parenting U video series and our Just Kids Health podcast, there are plenty of opportunities to learn more with our pediatric experts.

Parenting U video series: Children’s Nebraska offers a 100 percent virtual Parenting U video series covering popular topics such as Preparing for Your Newborn, Mastering Potty Training and Effective Timeout Techniques. Click here to see our list of topics and to register.

Just Kids Health podcast: With the Just Kids Health podcast, Children’s pediatric experts are here to answer your questions and weigh in on hot topics—to help you keep your child healthy, safe & strong. We’re here for you. Listen in.

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