Dealing with the Picky Eater – The Battle Between Parents and Children

picky girl

By Barbara Day, M.S., R.D., C.N.

Winning the war on what the child should eat or not eat is a continuing issue in every family in every generation.  Strategies such as, “You’ll sit here until you finish every bite on your plate” and “What do you want to eat – whatever you want, darling,” have not proven effective in ensuring that children eat healthier.

These strategies may help you survive the battle.

  1. Avoid the power struggle.  Don’t say, “Do it, because I’m the parent.”  The child needs to understand the why behind the rules, which may help lay the groundwork for lifelong, sound food choices.
  2. Let children participate in the meal preparation.
  3. Children under five are selective eaters.  That’s a fact.
  4. Introduce new foods slowly. Studies have shown children need to be exposed to a new food 10 to 15 times before they will accept it. Limit exposure to one or two new foods a week. When introducing a new food, serve it alongside familiar foods your child likes.
  5. Never use food as a reward.  Rather than using food as a reward, use something physical and fun – such as a trip to the park or a game of catch or basketball.
  6. Beware of over-snacking.  Knowing how many calories your child needs to eat and keeping track of those calories periodically can help ensure they are getting enough calories, but not too many. (See “How Many Calories Should Your Child Eat Each Day?”)
  7. Don’t label foods as “good” or “bad.”  Tie certain foods with things the child might care about , such as, lean protein helps build muscles and bones, whole grains energize sports performance, and antioxidants in fruits and vegetables help keep skin radiant and hair shiny and healthy.
  8. Be a good role model.  If you don’t eat fruits and vegetables, how can you expect the children to do so?  Your mealtime attitudes have a strong influence on your child’s eating behavior.
  9. Keep healthy foods available and accessible.  Your child can only choose foods that you purchase and bring into your home. Keep a low shelf in the refrigerator stocked with cut-up fresh fruit and other healthy food choices.
  10. Be more creative in your food design and preparation.If a child won’t drink milk, add it to oatmeal, pudding or mashed potatoes.  If a child won’t eat vegetables, serve fresh vegetables with low-fat dressing or puree the vegetables and add them to main dishes or side dishes. Don’t give up.
  11. Give your children small portions.  Children don’t need to eat the same portion sizes as adults.  Too much food can be overwhelming; they can always take seconds.
  12. Make sure the food looks and tastes good.
  13. Some children have food jags.  They will only eat certain foods.  Fortunately, children can thrive on a boring diet.
  14. If your child definitely won’t eat vegetables then boost their vitamin and mineral intake by serving more nutrient-dense fruits such as cantaloupes, berries, red or purple grapes, raisins, kiwi and oranges.
  15. If your child won’t eat meatyou can also puree the meat and add it to sauces.  You can also add gravy to meat, serve it with ketchup or mix it into mashed potatoes. A healthy diet doesn’t have to include meat but needs to include enough dairy products, beans and legumes or soy-based products, which can provide adequate amounts of protein, iron and B vitamins.

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Barbara Day, M.S., R.D., C.N., is a registered dietitian with a Master’s Degree in clinical nutrition.  The former publisher of Kentuckiana HealthFitness Magazine, Kentuckiana Healthy Woman magazine and radio show host of Health News You Can Use, Barbara has over 30 years of experience in promoting healthy lifestyles to consumers.  Barbara worked as Nutrition Consultant to the Navy SEALs (8 years) and the University of Louisville Athletic Department (10 years). Barbara has private practice, DayByDay Nutrition,, where she counsels clients on weight loss, cholesterol management, performance nutrition and an array of other medical issues.  Visit Barbara’s new website which is an on-line health & wellness magazine, Barbara writes nutrition and health columns for as well as a weekly nutrition column for the Southeast Outlook. She also designs and presents employee wellness programs to small and large businesses. Barbara is a runner, cyclist, hiker and a mother and grandmother to 13 grandchildren.     

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