Strategies for the Picky Eater

Picky eaters can make meal time difficult and unpleasant. It’s instinct to want to make sure that your kiddo is getting enough nutrition and this instinct can trigger controlling feeding practices. With a picky eater controlling feeding practices might take your kiddo down a path that leads to compromising their relationship with food and their motivation to eat. This is what we need to avoid.

green peas on white ceramic bowl

Before I get into strategies for working with your picky eater, let’s look at some controlling feeding practices that might be taking place.

  • Hiding “healthy” foods in something else like using zucchini in brownies just so your child will eat something green.
  • Holding dessert hostage in exchange for taking three more bites of green beans.
  • Holding a favorite food hostage. The child wants more macaroni and cheese so you require that they eat five peas before they can have more.

These are all behaviors that can turn meal time into a battle and these are all behaviors that can create an unpleasant association with certain foods. We don’t want this to happen so we’ve got to come up with different ways to work with a picky eater.

Now, how about some strategies to work with your picky eater.

  1. Make sure there is something on the table that he or she will eat. You want to avoid being a short order cook and you want to avoid giving in and making your kiddo exactly what he or she wants when they complain about what’s on the table. To do this, make sure that all meals include something that your little one will eat.
  2. Create an eating schedule. This eating schedule should include snacks and it should be a schedule that can be followed on most days. Having a schedule will limit snacking all day long. Snacking all day long is a major contributor to why children don’t eat at meal times. Stick to the schedule. Provide food at the scheduled meal times. If your child eats at those times, great. If not, it’s okay, there will be another opportunity to eat soon.
  3. Keep putting new foods in front of your child. It can be wildly frustrating to watch your child refuse to try new foods but you’ve got to stick with it. Trying a new food is quite scary. It may take several times of simply seeing that food before a child is ready to touch it and then it can take several more times of interacting with that food before a child is ready to taste it. This is okay. It’s part of learning to eat. Let it happen.
  4. Take the focus off of food. If you’re hyper-aware of whether or not your child is eating and that’s your total focus at meals, I promise you that your child will feel your anxiety. Your child will feel the pressure to eat and he or she will do the opposite of what you want – he or she will not eat. Take the pressure off of meal time. Don’t talk about food at the table. Talk about other things – talk about everyone’s day, talk about upcoming events and activities. It’s okay to mention food every once in awhile but don’t make food the primary focus.
  5. Set boundaries at meal time. You are in charge of what will be served at meal times, where it will be served, and how it will be served. Your child is in charge of what items he or she will eat and how much he or she will eat. Set this expectation as early as possible and set other meal time expectations. Other examples of meal time boundaries include no screens at the dinner table, everyone must come to the table for meals, and the kitchen is no longer open after meals.

These strategies can help make meals more pleasant but there are times when you may have a problem feeder on your hands and that’s when you need some extra help getting your child to eat new foods or to simply eat.

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