Picky eaters

Dr. Lauren Raimer-Goodman

Dr. Lauren Raimer-Goodman

“Help!  My child will only eat chicken nuggets and pasta.”  Sound familiar?  For families with young children mealtimes can be a struggle.  Here are a few tips to help with your picky eaters

  1. Give your child (limited) choices.  For example, “Do you want apple or pear slices for snack?  Should we make carrots or broccoli to go with dinner?”  Food struggles often are a normal part of a child’s development of independence.  One of the first things we have control over is what goes in our mouths.  Try to give your child some control and this may help reduce mealtime anxiety.  Try having your child help you pick out healthy foods at the grocery store as well.
  2. Offer new foods with an old favorite.  Encourage your child to try new things but do not be disappointed and do not punish when he or she spits them out.  It often takes numerous exposures to foods with particular colors, tastes or textures before a child will be accepting of them.  Remember also – some things we just won’t like no matter how much we try them.  I have always hated brussel sprouts, and that will probably never change.  It is often difficult to tell at first is a child has a strong dislike for something or is merely averse to trying the new food.  If your child makes a face at one of your favorite dishes don’t insist he or she eat it all as this may lead to gagging or lead to a battle of wills.  However don’t nix it yet from the recipe book as repeated exposure may lead to acceptance.
  3. Respect your child’s appetite.  Don’t force or bribe your child to eat if they are refusing as this may only reinforce the power struggle.  For many young children it is normal to eat a small amount for several days then be ravenous for one meal.
  4. Make food fun.  Offer veggies with something to dip them in.  Try cutting food into fun shapes.
  5. Don’t allow complaining at mealtime.  If your child doesn’t eat what is offered wrap up their plate and put it in the fridge.  If they are hungry later offer the leftovers, do not make a separate meal and do not substitute cookies, chips or processed snacks for dinner.
  6. Turn off the TV.  Put away the cell phone, iPad, etc.  Get your child talking.  Ask older children about their day.  Talk to younger kids about the colors and shapes of food on their plate.  Meal time is a great time to connect as a family.
  7. Set a good example.  You child is more likely to eat a good variety of healthy foods if you do too!

If your child is very anxious around food, restricts to very few food options, gags on certain textures, or is completely inflexible with food routines such that you are concerned talk to your pediatrician.  Most picky eating is a normal stage of development but it can rarely be a sign of another issue.

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