What To Do If Your Child Is A Picky Eater

by Sumdima Rai
You are silently praying and hoping your child will gobble up the meal in front of him, as you watch him from the corner of your eye. But all your hopes come crashing down as he shoves his plate away. Such scenes of picky eaters are common in households; in fact, nearly two-thirds of parents describe at least one problem with their child’s eating, according to a study published in Contemporary Pediatrics. Although pickiness is normal and it decreases with age, parents of picky eaters are constantly seeking solutions to the plaguing question: What should we do about picky eaters?

A study suggests that what parents call picky eating is actually a broad spectrum of behaviors, and knowing which category your child falls into can help you find the appropriate solution to the problem. 

Here are the four categories of picky eaters.

1. Sensory Dependent Eaters
They reject food because of its appearance, texture, and smell.

2. Preferential Eaters
They reject new or mixed foods.

3. General Perfectionists
They reject food that does not conform to their specific needs. (“Foods should not touch each other!”)

4. Behavioral Responders
They may cringe or gag complaining the food is not “right.” (“Sandwich should be made with white bread, not brown!”) Or they may simply refuse to come at the sound of dinner.

Soo-Yeon Lee, co-author of the study and nutrition professor at the University of Illinois, says that although no scientifically validated strategies for picky eaters are devised yet, it may help parents recognize that their kid’s picky eating habits do not necessarily relate to food or eating. Therefore, it does not make much sense for parents to get involved in power struggles with youngsters for eating. They can instead adopt some time-tested strategies. Here are some.

Give Fussy Eaters The Power Of Choice!

Admit it— there is no way you are going to win the food battle with your child by forcing him into eating. So just stop trying. And definitely, no short-order cooking! Dr Jamie Friedman, pediatrician and mom, advises parents to put food in front of the child and then enjoy their own meal. She says, “If you argue, your child may use food as a control issue and may develop an unhealthy relationship with food.” So, simply offer him nutritious, varied foods—and eat them yourself. 

Let your child choose within a range of healthy foods. It is important to limit the options to two to three foods so that the child does not get confused or feel overwhelmed to eat. For example, instead of giving your child the option of picking what he wants to eat from the fridge, you could ask, 'would you like to have an apple or carrot sticks?'

Scientific studies have shown that children copy their parents' eating behaviors. So, if you want your kids to enjoy a wide range of wholesome foods, serve them what you’re eating. It’ll be less stressful for you, which in turn will boost the acceptance of an 'adult menu' in your child. Alisson, an active mommy blogger, endorses a similar viewpoint. She writes: “Don’t play the ‘just take one bite’ game. Keep quick healthy options on hand for those times when dinner doesn’t appeal to everyone. When my sons went through their picky-eating phases, they eventually got tired of making their own sandwiches or heating their own soup and decided to eat what I had already made. They knew they had options, but sometimes choosing an option that required them to prepare their own dinner wasn’t worth it.”

Make It Fun!

You could serve a new vegetable such as kale of broccoli with their favorite sauce or dip such as hummus and yogurt. Appeal to their visual senses by cutting foods into different shapes with cookie cutters. You could maybe offer healthy breakfast foods for dinner. Serving a variety of brightly colored foods can also make children feel like eating them.


If They Can't Eat It, Make Them Drink It!

If your child makes a fuss about eating a specific food, why not try a different route? Experiment with different smoothies. Milk and fruit—along with healthy supplements, such as wheat germ, egg powder, Greek yogurt, and honey. So what difference does it make if it comes through a straw? Just a word of caution: Avoid any drink with raw eggs or you'll increase the risk of salmonella poisoning.

Never Offer Dessert As A Reward

Holding back on the dessert can convey the message that dessert is probably the best food, which might increase the child's desire to eat sweets after a meal. You could select one or maybe two nights in a week to have dessert and skip the rest of the week. Even better, you could redefine dessert as yogurt, fruits or other healthy choices.
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