Tips for Dealing With a Picky Eater

girl refusing to eat

Many parents of toddlers are concerned about their child’s picky eating. It is not uncommon for toddlers and preschoolers to be picky about what they eat, in fact, according to a recent study by the American Dietetic Association, as many as 50 percent of caretakers considered their child to be a picky eater. However, the study showed that all of the children actually consumed enough variety of foods to meet their nutritional needs. Still, moms may be frustrated with how their child eats or want to improve the variety in their child’s diet.

Here Are Some Tips for Handling Picky Eaters

Try the one-bite rule: It may be too much to expect your child to eat an entire serving of a particular food. The "try one bite" rule works for a lot of moms. Many foods are acquired tastes, and the more times your child tries, it the more likely he will be to like it. As a guideline, it may take trying new food as many as ten times before your child will like it.

mom feeding baby with spoon

Try to avoid main dishes or unusual foods that your child does not like: Many children do not like casseroles or foods that are mixed together. Instead of making a casserole dish, try making the foods separately so that your child has more choices. Avoid unusual foods that are spicy or that your child doesn’t like. Keep in mind that many healthy adults do not care for unusual or spicy foods.

Make mealtime a pleasant experience: Do not make a big deal about your child’s food choices. Making your child eat something he doesn’t like or forcing your child to stay at the table until he eats his food only leads to more food battles. Children may remember this into adulthood, and it does not seem to be beneficial in improving what your child eats.

Serve appropriate portion sizes: Parents are sometimes unrealistic about how much their child should be eating. Toddlers need about 1000 to 1300 calories a day on average. To find out the appropriate portion size and what your child should be eating, see the USDA’s food pyramid for kids. Be realistic about how much your child eats and do not expect them to consistently eat the same amounts of food. Some days your child will eat better than other days.

Serve a variety of food and give your child choices: Look at what you are serving. Are your meals boring? Do you like what you are eating? Families that are living on a limited budget for food may not provide enough variety for their children. It is okay for your kids to eat their favorite foods regularly but try having several choices at mealtime for them.

Let your child help with shopping and cooking: Kids like to be involved in their food decisions. Letting your child help prepare his meals will make him more interested in eating his creation.

girl refusing to eat brocolli

Make a list of your child’s likes and dislikes: Make a list of what foods your child likes and dislikes. See if there are any patterns in what he likes or doesn’t like. For instance, some kids may not like certain textures or food groups like meat. Work from your list to improve his variety. Take the foods he likes and build from there. If he likes macaroni and cheese but doesn’t like hamburger, try adding small amounts of hamburger to his macaroni and cheese. If he likes bananas, try banana yogurt, or banana bread, or banana pudding. Try to build his preferences from what he already likes.

Make your meals fun for kids: Try cutting up sandwiches in fun shapes or making the foods look more appealing to your child. Be creative. Kids like to see fun shapes or dishes that look fun to eat.

When to Be Concerned

Sometimes picky eating is caused by underlying health issues or may require an evaluation from a doctor or a feeding clinic. If your child is healthy and is growing properly, there is usually no cause for concern; however, if your child is losing weight or falling below the fifth percentile for weight and/or height, there may be cause for concern. Other things to watch for are difficulty chewing or swallowing, vomiting after meals, excessive drooling or gagging with meals, or if your child completely refuses foods or liquids. If you are concerned that your child may have a feeding disorder, discuss this with your pediatrician.