Dealing With a Picky Eater

By Lynn Yen 2023-05-06 12:07:53

Turn the eww into yum.

For many parents with little kids, mealtimes can become a daily challenge. When food becomes a battleground, some parents deploy tactics like bargaining, bribing, and trickery to complete the mission of eating a balanced and healthy meal.

Although the goal is to give children all the good nutrients and vitamins to grow up strong, using war game tactics can end up being the cause rather than the cure of picky eating and start a bad relationship with food. The best approach for parents may just be a ceasefire over the dining table.


Pick Your Battles

It’s important to keep things in perspective. As the UK’s National Health Service points out, “It’s perfectly normal for toddlers to refuse to eat or even taste new foods. Do not worry about what your child eatsinadayoriftheydonoteat everything at mealtimes. It’s more helpful to think about what they eat over a week.”

Seeing the larger forest through the trees is a realistic approach. If today was an unsuccessful day, tomorrow is fresh chance to try again, and it might just require trying over and over and over again. It can take around 15 offers for a child to start to try a new food.

As the NHS advises, “Gradually introduce other foods and keep going back to the foods your child did not like before. Children’s tastes change. One day they’ll hate something, but a month later they may love it. Keep offering a variety of foods. It may take lots of attempts before your child accepts some foods.”

Forcing a child to eat food they do not like or want to eat at a particular moment, can start a power struggle over every meal and develop a negative emotional association to food.



Look for the Underlying Cause for Picky Eating

Identifying and understanding the root cause of a child’s behavior toward food is helpful in selecting ways to work with their preferences.

For some kids, it might just be an unfamiliar food that they don’t eat often. This aversion to new or foreign foods can be dealt with by exposure and gaining familiarity with the weird food.

As we know, living in another country, one person’s “eww” is another person’s “yumm.” A lot of the attitudes toward what food is okay to eat and what is normal for a person is a learned habit and influenced by culture norms, and what others think.

Observe what other family members or friends and classmates say about certain food or food combinations. Your child’s picky eating may just be a case of peer pressure and copycatting. If a school mate made a comment about a smelly food once, a child may start to avoid it.

After all, according to the University of California San Francisco, children’s opinions and fears of food can be learned from modeling their parent’s own fussy eating habits and attitudes.


Set a Good Example

Children’s natural learning method of copying others can be

used in the parent’s favor. Eating together with your child during mealtimes gives them a good model for what type of food is normalized. Happily eating and enjoying a variety of healthy vegetables, fruits, starches, and proteins will actively counter any biases they may have toward different types of food. If you keep raving about how yummy carrots are, then your child will start wondering if maybe carrots aren’t so bad after all.

Exposure therapy can help with broadening a young eater’s perspective. Some picky eaters are not adventurous, while others may have more serious reasons for being selective about what they eat.

For some kids, food can turn into a phobia. In these cases, pushing or forcing a child to eat something can be an emotional experience.

It’s good to take the small victories when you can when dealing with picky eaters. A child may take small bites of broccoli and avoid the stems, but on the bright side, now they are eating broccoli!