You finally think you have found the perfect snack or meal for your child. It is healthy and easy to prepare and your child LOVES it. You are so excited that you are nearly dancing around the kitchen. Then, the next day comes and when you offer this new super food to your child again they look at you like you are crazy. They have no interest at all in having it placed in front of them, let alone eating it. Does this story sound familiar? If you are a parent of a toddler or young child, the answer is likely to be yes.

The good news is that you are not alone. Most children display some level of pickiness when it comes to food and/or eating in general. Maybe they like to eat only a handful of things or have a hard time sitting still at the dinner table. Maybe they constantly change their minds about what they want to eat as the meal is being prepared and served. Or, maybe they are just plain stubborn and like to use food as a way to exert their will over their parents. There are countless ways in which the combination of children and food can lead to both daily tantrums and many tears.

Even though picky eating is an issue that nearly every parent has faced at some time and to some degree, it remains an incredibly difficult and frustrating topic. Below are some suggestions that may help parents keep their sanity while working to ensure that their children develop healthy eating habits and are properly nourished.

  1. Don’t Force It: If your child is truly not hungry, it probably is not worth the battle of forcing them to eat. For one thing, it can be very impractical to get a child to eat when they do not want to. It can also get them into the unhealthy habit of eating when they are not hungry. If this behavior becomes more consistent you may want to talk to your child about what they are eating during the day and when – perhaps they are eating too soon before meals and menu adjustments need to be made.
  2. Make it Fun: Try to make meals fun for kids. Do something out of the ordinary at each meal – something as simple as offering a new dipping sauce or cutting fruits and veggies into creative shapes. Children also love new dishes, silverware, and placemats – little things can make them more apt to eat. You may also need to find fun ways to get your child to come to the table like bringing the meal out in different “surprise” stages just to keep mealtime interesting and appealing.
  3. Involve Children in Food Shopping: Even though it can be challenging taking your child to the grocery store, young children often love to be helpers and feel a sense of accomplishment when they get to pick out items and place (or throw) them into the shopping cart. You can have children pick out which cucumbers or apples, for example, to buy for snacks. Children tend to want to eat what they have helped select. Keep in mind, children may also want to choose items that are less healthy, but by giving them some choice and explaining to them why it is important to give their bodies nutritious food, you may be surprised at the healthy decisions they make.
  4. Stick to a Schedule: Try to have meals at the same time every day. Such a schedule is important to give children a sense of security and it also will help to regulate their hunger patterns. A set schedule helps get their bodies in rhythm and they will naturally be hungry closer to meal time.
  5. Dessert is not the Answer: It can be tempting to threaten your child with no dessert if they do not eat what is in front of them or behave better at the kitchen table. Or use dessert as a reward for being a member of the clean plate club. While this may help in the short-run, in the long-run, it may create dangerous connections for children between foods and rewards.
  6. All About Options: As a parent, one of the best things you can do for your picky eater is to provide them with a range of options at each meal. Some foods can be foods that you know they will eat, others should be new. You may need to change your own expectations and be content when they taste or even touch the new item. Changing a youngster’s eating habits will generally not happen overnight. Try not to only give a child the food that they request. Exposing them to a variety of tastes and textures will pay off down the line.
  7. Stand Back: Sometimes the best and the only thing you can do at mealtime is to patiently stand back and be quiet. Place the food in front of your child and go about with the rest of the meal. Focusing too much on your child and what they are or are not eating simply brings attention to the matter. Perhaps, this is all the child is after anyways.
  8. Be a Good Example: Above all, children look to their parents and caregivers as examples. These individuals should eat a diverse and healthy array of food and have well-balanced meals with their children. Do your best to be a good eating role model. Remind yourself and your children that you are what you eat.

While parents may lose sleep over their children’s eating habits, children will eventually eat when they are hungry. Also, parents should remember that a serving for a child is one tablespoon per year of age – much less than an adult serving. So, even if you think your child is not eating enough or not eating the right balance of foods, usually they are getting what they need to grow and develop. If you are concerned that your child’s health is being compromised, contact a health professional to get additional advice and support.

About the Author:

About the Author:
Gladys Ruiz is the Director of Little Children Schoolhouse in Brookline, MA.  After more than 10 years working in Early Childhood Education, Gladys opened the Little Children Schoolhouse to provide a nurturing, loving environment—an extension of her student’s home and family life—in Brookline. Pre-K, Preschool and Daycare programs for toddlers and infants include extra activities, such as weekly music, yoga, cooking, science activities, and field trips.  Both full day and part-time enrollment are available.