Nutrition: Strategies for picky eaters

Picky EaterWe’ve all seen a child crinkle their nose when served beets or stew! Helping a child become a happy, healthy eater takes patience and thoughtful attention. If you’re a parent or caregiver, keep in mind who is responsible for what:

  • The parent is responsible for what, when and where.
  • The child is responsible for how much and whether they eat.

This means that you choose and prepare foods, provide regular meals and snacks, and demonstrate how to behave when eating. You are in charge of making mealtimes pleasant, and letting your child grow into the body that’s right for them.

Children have a natural ability to eat as much as they need, and to stop when they’re full. So you can trust your child to eat the amount they need, and ease up on prodding them.

To help your child feel relaxed about meals and even confident in exploring new flavors, try these three tips:

Create a pre-meal routine

It can involve putting away toys, washing hands, a prayer or a song. Transitions may be hard for kids, and a routine helps everyone get ready for a meal in a calming and predictable way.

Involve your child in setting up meals

Help your child learn about preparing and cooking foods. You can offer simple tasks like tearing lettuce or mixing ingredients, or suggest something that avoids close contact with foods like setting the table, inviting sister and dad to the table or pouring water for everyone.

Eat as a family

Aim to make the dinner table the happiest spot in your house. Children will want to be there and feel privileged to be to participate in family meals. Eating with the family allows kids to model adult behavior around trying new foods and learning manners.

Finally, be considerate of your child’s preferences—but ultimately, remember the division of responsibility: you choose what is being offered, and the child decides if they want to eat it. Have the child help plan meals by requesting foods before grocery shopping or meal prep. Or ask them to choose between two items you were already planning to serve.

For more information on healthy, positive eating, visit The Ellyn Satter Institute. Looking for a pediatrician or dietitian who can give advice geared to your little one? Make an appointment with a PacMed pediatrician, family medicine doctor or dietitian. Happy eating!