Healthy Children - September 2016

Handling a "Choosy" Eater

  • Sara Mei will not eat anything green – she even refuses a whole meal if one green pea appears on her plate.
  • Santiago is interested in everything at the table but eating.
  • Dillon Gets upset when one food on his plate touches another.
  • Mariffa will not eat anything but an orange or a banana; two days ago she would only eat peanut butter sandwiches.

“Choosy” eating is a child-size step toward growing up and showing independence. In fact what seems like a challenge to you may be an early step toward making food choices. A child’s “No” does not always mean no. What seems “choosy” may just be your child’s awkward first steps in learning to make decisions.

What appears to be “choosy” eating may instead be a smaller appetite. Preschool-age children grow and develop at a slower rate than toddlers do. If left alone, most children become hearty eaters again when their body’s growth pattern requires more food for energy.

The best advice for you: Relax and be patient! Learning how to handle eating challenges and how to avoid conflict. That way, your child will not learn to use food as a way to exert control.

Ten effective ways to handle a “choosy” eater:

  1. Treat food jags casually since food jags do not last long anyway.
  2. Consider what a child eats over several days, not just at each meal. Most kids eat more food variety than a parent thinks.
  3. Trust your child’s appetite rather than force a child to eat everything on the plate. Forcing a child to eat more encourages overeating.
  4. Set reasonable time limits for the start and end of a meal then remove the plate quietly. What is reasonable depends on each child.
  5. Stay positive and avoid criticizing or calling any child a “picky eater.” Children believe what you say!
  6. Serve food plain, and respect the “no foods touching” rule if that’s important to your child. This will pass.
  7. Avoid being a short-order cook by offering the same food for the whole family. Plan at least one food everyone will eat.
  8. Substitute a similar food – if a child does not like a certain food; instead of squash offer potatoes.
  9. Provide just two or three choices not a huge array of food. Then let your child decide.
  10. Focus on your child’s positive eating behavior not on the food.