Picky Eaters – Advice for Parents

by Brooke Joanna Benlifer, RD

Comforting Fact:  Most children are somewhat neophobic: distrustful of new food.

  1. Include kids in meal preparation.  This gives them familiarity with foods they may be suspicious of, teaches them a life skill, and gives them ownership over their meal options.  Although boiling water and razor sharp knives may be too advanced for young children, there are many jobs in meal preparation they can do.
  2. Model good behavior.  Regularly eat healthy options in front of your kids with an attitude that says, “This is normal food that I prefer to eat.”  Not, “Ugh, Mom’s on a diet again.”
  3. Let your child choose between two healthy options.  “Do you want an apple or an orange?”  Not, “Do you want an apple or a cookie?”
  4. Eat meals and snacks together.  This allows your child to see you enjoying healthy food and will prompt him to trust your food choices more in the future.
  5. Allow your child to not eat if she is not hungry or refuses to eat from the options given.  When she is truly hungry she will eat, and will be more open to new food.
  6. Be patient with new foods. It takes children 10-15 times of seeing-tasting-touching new food before it becomes part of their “normal” food list.  Encourage tasting, but do not force eating.
  7. Introduce new foods one at a time, with familiar, well-liked foods on the same plate.  Too many new foods is overwhelming and may trigger absolute refusal in the child.  Keep portion sizes small (1-2 tablespoons) for the same reasons.
  8. Food is not war.  In a positive environment, encourage eating.  Meal or snack times should never be a battle-ground, so the less you force or coerce, the less your child will act out or refuse.
  9. Allow grazing up to an hour before mealtime.  This allows the child to eat when he is hungry and avoids meltdowns from low-blood sugar or extreme hunger.  Set a plate at kid-level with dipping veggies, multi-grain crackers, and peanut butter.
  10. Make every calorie count by providing nutrient dense foods and avoiding sugary, processed foods.  Remember that your parental roles are to provide a variety of healthy foods and to decide when to eat.  Your child’s role is to decide how much to eat.

Brooke.photo Brooke Joanna Benlifer, RD is a Cornell University graduate and Registered Dietician with expertise in a variety of medical issues.  She has worked in the hospital setting, and currently works in the San Diego area in private practice.  She has experience working with families and children who have problems such as overweight, celiac disease, diabetes and food allergies.  Brooke is available to Coast Pediatrics families who would like guidance on grocery shopping, cooking and maintaining a healthy eating environment at home.  See her website, www.brookejoannanutrition.com, for more information.

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