Parenting Matters: Struggles with picky eaters

  • Wednesday, January 10, 2018 1:30am
  • Life

Let me begin by telling you, “You are not alone.” Most parents go through struggles with their growing children. This is especially common when it comes to food.

The biggest problem is that no matter what you say, you probably will not win the battle over eating any food your child has chosen to dislike.

Parents have tried just about everything. You have probably tried most things yourself. What should a parent do? Let’s look at some of the hints from others.

The biggest and most consistent suggestion is to remind yourself that your job is not to force your child to eat food, it is just to prepare and serve it. You go ahead and eat what you put on the table and just ignore your child’s behavior as she rejects certain foods.

Remember your child is in charge of what she eats and how much she eats. Just put the food on the table and move on from there. Don’t beg your child to eat and don’t brief her to eat.

Be prepared to have food rejected. One study found that you can put new food before your child at least a dozen times before she may even try it.

Don’t worry about how many vegetables are being consumed. Instead, put your energy into making delicious meals and snacks that include yummy veggies with them.

If your child is really into fast foods or fried or battered chicken, cook the chicken at home or limit how often you will take your child to the fast food place to buy those foods.

Don’t let your child control what you buy and make. Most food marketed to kids hooks them in every way. They love the taste, the package it comes in, the bright colors. You will have difficulty competing with these foods.

One of the most irritating rejections of food that children offer is to decide they don’t like something before they have even tasted it. Even then, the best thing to do is to back off. If your child sees you getting mad about her not trying some new food, she is likely to go in the opposite direction if it’s going to make you that mad.

You need to remember, there aren’t a lot of ways your child can win over you and this is one way.

Don’t cater to your picky eater. You may not be able to change your child’s food preferences but you can change your response to her. Make and serve one meal. Eventually you will have a child who enjoys eating all sorts of food.

Giving in isn’t the answer. Don’t make a separate meal for your fussy eater. It is a take it or leave it proposition. The worst thing you have to do is to scrape the food off the plate and run in down the garbage disposal.

The truth is, you can’t make children unfussy. No amount of threats, nagging, cajoling, or bribes will do it. In fact, it has the opposite effect. The more you say, the more you show you care, the more you give your child something to react against. It is an invitation to battle.

No matter what the age, toddler to teen, you child will soon figure out that power and attention can be gained from not eating something – even if they quite like it.

This is a battle that doesn’t end. A study of university students whose parents had insisted they ate a food as a child found that 72 percent of them now didn’t eat that food. This is an unending battle.

The best approach is simply to keep presenting your kids with a wide variety of meals and foods and say nothing. It’s an approach that takes a lot of willpower.

You may have to bite your tongue for a long time. But it can work wonders not just to prevent, but also – with a little time – to undo fussy eating.

Cynthia Martin is the founder of the First Teacher program and former executive director of Parenting Matters Foundation, which publishes newsletters for parents, caregivers and grandparents. Reach Martin at

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