What to Do When Your Child is a Picky Eater

by Holley Nash, RDN, LD

Most parents strive to do what is best for their children. They struggle to make sure their children have a good education, safe places to play, and caring adults to look after them when the parents can’t be with them.

Feeding children is where things get a little more complicated. In fact, it is probably the area where parents – ALL parents – really struggle.

As we parents quickly discover, feeding children is not as simple as just putting food in front of them. It can be – and often is – rife with emotions like joy, fear, guilt, frustration and even anger because, from very early on, kids don’t just eat what we give them. Most children have very strong opinions about food, so when you are trying to make sure that your kids are getting all they need from the meals you provide – enjoyment and good nutrition – you may sometimes feel a little overwhelmed and defeated. Don’t worry, we are here to help, and the answers are simpler than you might think! Here are a few rules of thumb to help you figure out what to put on the table.

How to serve healthy food that your kids will eat

Variety is key to good nutrition:

  • Offer plenty of different types of protein at meals and snacks. Include both animal and plant-based proteins (lean meats, chicken, fish, beans, pulses, vegetables, and soy) in your weekly meals
  • Make half of the grains your family eats whole grains
  • Cook a wide variety of vegetables each week, including fresh, frozen and canned
  • Provide a variety of fresh, frozen, canned and/or dried fruits throughout the week at meals and snack time
  • Opt for low-fat dairy most of the time

Although no food should be completely off limits – except in the case of allergies – there are foods that should be limited to being eaten only on rare occasions because they are low in nutrients and high in fat or sugar, such as:

  • Fried and breaded foods
  • Processed meats like bologna and hot dogs
  • Sweets and pastries
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages (sports drinks, sodas, juices)
  • Pizza, fast foods, French fries

Watch out for food traps

Other pitfalls to watch out for are:

  • Grazing and distracted eating (eating in front of the computer, television or while using a cell phone)
  • Adult portion sizes – little people require little food. Always begin with the appropriate portion size based upon your child’s age. If they are still hungry, you can always give them more.

If what I have described above seems like a big change in your family’s eating style, please don’t try to make all of this happen at one time. You will be met with very strong resistance! Instead, make small changes every week or so, to give your family an opportunity to adapt.

Reduce meal-time stress for good

Why won't my kids eat what I feed them?

Finally, avoid food fights and meal-time stress by teaching and embracing the division of responsibilities:

Parents are responsible for:

  • planning and structuring meal times
  • buying, preparing and serving a wide variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables, at every meal and snack
  • ensuring that meal times are free of distractions

Children are responsible for:

  • choosing what and how much they will eat from the food offered them
  • being respectful to the person who prepared the meal (no negative comments and criticisms about the food being served)

As with any change in habits, your family will go through a period of adaptation, but once the rules are clearly established and understood, meals will become a source of pleasure for everyone. There will be no more arguing, cajoling, shaming or fighting about food at the table. Moreover, if you are serving a variety of wholesome balanced meals and snacks on a regular schedule, you can be sure that you family is getting all of the nutrients they need.

If you still feel like you or your child is struggling, please make an appointment with us  so that we can provide you with a full nutrition assessment and support.