From a child who refuses to eat a particular food to a child who refuses to eat at all, picky eaters can make meals a challenge for parents. Luckily, we’ve got some tips and tricks to help your child expand their palate and develop interest in trying new foods.

Here’s what to do with a picky eater:

First and foremost make sure your child is gaining weight well and is healthy. A visit to your CPCMG pediatrician can be reassuring and you may not have to make any change at all!

  • Allow your child to shop and cook with you. Getting them involved will encourage them to try the foods they prepare.
  • Have meals together as a family and demonstrate healthy eating.
  • For younger kids, use a sticker chart to mark the time when they try a new food – but don’t use junk food as the reward!
  • Keep a snack drawer in the fridge that is easily reached and contains cut up fruits and veggies along with granola bars and other healthy snacks.
  • Put out all food at once including healthy food and desserts and teach your children to use moderation and make healthy choices.
  • Be very consistent. It might take 15-20 tries before a child might eat a certain food but it can take a lot more! One mom put broccoli in front of her child every day for an entire summer and by the end he was begging for it!
  • When shopping for groceries, allow each child to pick one brand new food each week for everyone to try.

Here’s what not to do:

  • Don’t turn mealtime into a battle. Put food in front of them and enjoy your meal. If you argue with your child, then they may use food as a means of control or to get attention and may even develop an unhealthy relationship with food.
  • Don’t reward healthy meals or other accomplishments with junk food. This makes the junk food more desirable and doesn’t teach your child to enjoy healthy foods on their own.
  • Don’t compare your children to each other or other kids.
  • Don’t allow your child to eat junk food just because that is all they will eat. This is a slippery slope and teaches the child that if they are stubborn enough, they will get what they want.

What to do if your child refuses to eat a meal:

Often children will hate a meal or refuse to try a meal that mom or dad has made. Sometimes these families get stuck in a pattern in which the child routinely only eats a less than healthy food because that is all they will eat. There are several options when this happens:

  • Let your child have a healthy alternative if they help prepare it and also if they try the primary meal. Having a little bit of each food in front of them will encourage them to eat the foods they prefer along with the foods they don’t.
  • Refuse to make an alternate meal and, if given the green light from your doctor, let your child skip the meal. Most would argue “if they are hungry they will eat.” However, there is a small percentage of kids who will actually starve themselves so be sure to have careful follow-up with your CPCMG pediatrician if your child is not growing well. In general, most kids will eat when hungry. If your child skips dinner and they start complaining at bedtime that they are hungry, give a small healthy snack and let them know that they need to make a better choice the next night. For repeat offenders, offer a small dinner 30 minutes prior to bedtime so that the hunger can’t be used to stall bedtime.
  • Prepare an alternate meal in advance if you know your child will adamantly refuse what is made, while still encouraging him/her to try new foods. Again, just put it in front of them and move on.

Keep in mind that this can be a very emotional issue for parents. Once you let your emotions in, kids can use that to their advantage. They will begin to manipulate you into allowing them to only have the same few foods. Try to keep the emotion out of the game and keep the variety flowing.