Partly Cloudy   56.0F  |  Forecast »

Kids Who are Picky Eaters: What to Do When Meals Become Battles

Got a major food fight brewing at the family table? Southeast Michigan experts share advice and tips for parents to help avoid or diffuse mealtime struggles.

For parents of a picky eater, the kitchen can sometimes feel like a battlefield. The importance of a healthy diet is lost on the child set on eating chicken nuggets for every meal. And with kids and parents squaring off over what the child will or will not eat, mealtimes can be stressful for the whole family. What's a concerned parent to do?

First, remember you are far from alone. More than two-thirds of moms reported having a picky eater, according to a survey by Abbott, the makers of PediaSure nutritional shakes. In fact, picky eating is expected in younger kids, says dietician Anne Van Wagoner of Children's Hospital of Michigan in Detroit.

The heart of the issue

Van Wagoner, who has raised a picky eater of her own, says fussy eating isn't a health problem as long as the child is gaining weight and growing – although adding a multivitamin to the child's diet couldn't hurt.

Picky eating only becomes a concern when kids are eliminating an entire food group or decreasing in weight percentile, she says.

Parents often feel responsible for what their child eats and how much he eats, Van Wagoner says, but they are only responsible for buying, preparing and serving healthy food.

That takes some of the pressure off parents. Still, meals with a picky eater can get rocky; what can parents do to help mealtimes go smoothly?

Beware the bribes

In the Abbott survey, three-quarters of moms with picky eaters reported using persuasive techniques like disguising nutritious foods and ingredients, giving rewards for eating healthy and bargaining.

But although those strategies may help get the family through dinner, they can send the wrong message to kids.

Often, kids pick up negotiating skills instead of better eating habits. Using a sweet dessert as a reward for the child who finishes her broccoli reinforces dessert as the desirable food and veggies as the undesirable food.

And forcing a child to eat an undesired food can leave parents feeling like the "bad guy."

Good ways to make eating easier

Van Wagoner offers a better solution: "It's important to give attention for trying new foods – and to turn your head" when a child refuses a food, she says.

Kids can use picky eating as a way to take control, and giving them attention for it only reinforces the bad eating habits, Van Wagoner explains.

"You may have to offer something 20 times before they'll try it," she says. "If they don't like it, don't force it; if they refuse it, that's OK, too – just drop it."

Elizabeth Pantley, author of the book The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution, recommends making small changes over time to a child's diet, like gradually mixing a child's favorite sugary breakfast cereal with a healthier option.

"Don't panic. Don't be afraid your kid is going to starve," she says. "Realize that you're changing a child's eating habits for life, not for a day."

The mom of four stressed the importance of eating together as a family as often as possible. A family dinner encourages relationship development as well as a healthy diet, she says. And with the right techniques and some patience, those family dinners can be a positive, pleasant experience for everyone.

Add your comment:
Advertisement

More »Latest Articles & Blog Posts

Mushroom Recipes for a Family Meal

Mushroom Recipes for a Family Meal

Mushrooms can be a tough sell with picky eaters but these dishes will entice them to try a bite – or two!

Tennessee Law Prevents Parents from Giving Child a Hybrid Last Name

Tennessee Law Prevents Parents from Giving Child a Hybrid Last Name

Carl Abramson and Kim Sarubbi mashed together their surnames for their first two kids, but Tennessee law says they can't use the last name 'Sabr' for baby No. 3.

Sticky Fingers Duct Tape Book Offers Easy Bow Making How-To

Sticky Fingers Duct Tape Book Offers Easy Bow Making How-To

Sophie Maletsky's new guide, published by Zest Books, is packed with fun crafts and DIY ideas kids and families can make out of colorful duct tape.

Paper Craft Fun with Handprints, Garland and Kawaii Art

Paper Craft Fun with Handprints, Garland and Kawaii Art

This versatile craft material transforms into an acorn fall creation, decorative ribbon, cute Japanese critters and cool dividers for your kid's closet.

How to Prevent Your Child from Choking

How to Prevent Your Child from Choking

Mealtime can turn from pleasant to panic in a matter of seconds. Protect your child from this mishap with our list of dos and don’ts.

YouTube Moms Parody Iggy Azalea's Hit Song 'Fancy'

YouTube Moms Parody Iggy Azalea's Hit Song 'Fancy'

The rapper's had the hit of the summer, but these clever mothers made it their own, riffing on pregnancy and motherhood in some pretty funny viral videos.

Biscuit Recipes: From Classic to Chocolate

Biscuit Recipes: From Classic to Chocolate

September is National Biscuit Month, but you can bake these any time! These recipes, including classic biscuits from Betty Crocker and cornmeal biscuits from Martha Stewart, will have you reaching...

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement