A reader asks:

Dear Sarah… How do you deal with a picky eater? What do you do when the kids won’t eat what you make?

We want our children to grow and thrive- a nutritious diet is a must.

We want our children to have healthy relationships with food.

We want our mealtimes to be enjoyable and a time for our families to reconnect.

How do we accomplish all of this when we are struggling with picky eaters?

  1. Trust your child if he says he’s not hungry. This will help him to recognize and listen to his body’s own cues.
  2. Don’t mix foods. Try serving the components of your meal separately. Having stir fry for dinner? Before you cook it, put aside some veggies and tofu and serve them on the side with rice before you cook it all together with sauce.
  3. Have one thing at every meal your child likes. If he tries everything else and doesn’t want to eat it, at least there is one option he will eat and he won’t be hungry.
  4. Let the your child choose dinner one night a week. She will feel empowered. (And it’s one fewer night for picky eating woes.)
  5. Enlist help in dinner prep. Kids like food better that they helped to make.
  6. Think long range. How much fruit, vegetables, protein have they eaten throughout the week?
  7. Remember it’s okay to be a bit hungry. We are often too quick to offer snacks. If children are a hungry before meals they usually eat a better meal.
  8. Stock your house with healthy food. If you only have food in your house that you feel good about them eating, that is half the battle won!
  9. Insist your child try new things. Even if she spits it out (politely.) She will be more willing to try new things if it’s risk-free (i.e. she knows she won’t be forced to eat it.)
  10. Keep offering. Exposure is key! Maybe the 7th time he tries asparagus will be the time he likes it.
  11. Model good eating habits. Monkey see, monkey do.
  12. Don’t use food as a reward- or take treats away as punishment. Food is about nourishment and treats shouldn’t be about behaviour modification.
  13. Offer food to your child as you would to a guest in your home. No pressure, no attachment to outcome.
  14. Make meals about family enjoying good food together. Don’t fight about food! (see below)
  15. Don’t make food a battleground issue. You can’t force a child to eat- you can only create an optimum environment for healthy eating. The rest is- and should be- up to your child.
  16. Be flexible. If your child really hates cauliflower, have some baby carrots on hand to have instead. Baby carrots vs. cauliflower is not a power struggle worth having.
  17. Be relaxed about the occasional sugar or junk food hit! What are grandparents for anyhow? “Bad” food in moderation doesn’t have to be a big deal, and a relaxed attitude about the occasional treat goes along way toward making it not a big deal.
  18. And if your child still won’t eat the dinner you made? I don’t recommend going short-order cook OR letting them go completely hungry. Offer something small and healthy- like a banana or a small bowl of cereal- and know it’s not too long till breakfast!

Have faith! (Your child WILL eat new foods eventually- And he will not starve himself!) Becoming a great eater is a process and the more relaxed you can be about food the better.

(PS- In this post I am assuming that your child is healthy and growing, and on track on his or her growth curve. If this is NOT the case, you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider.)

I hope that helps.

Maybe it feels like we’re heading in the right direction but you’d like some personal support and guidance. (With an issue similar to this or anything else that’s driving you crazy.) Working with me one-on-one is a great way to figure out some strategies and solutions– with me supporting you at every step along the way. Sound tempting? Fill out an application for a free strategy session to see if we might like to work together.

Until next time,

xo sarah

PS. Do you have a Dear Sarah… Ask A Parenting Coach question for me?  Post it on my Facebook page, email me, or leave a comment on this post.