Picky Eating: The Fear Factor

By Jennifer Yoon, RDN/LDN, Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair


Imagine you are at an exotic food party. There is food here you’ve never seen before. You’re the only newbie at the party. All eyes are on you as foods are passed around. You begin to turn red and sweat. Can you really be expected to eat this? What if you can’t swallow it or you gag? What if you throw up all over the floor? “Try it!” everyone says enthusiastically. This is the worst party ever!

Welcome to the world of your picky eater. New foods are scary! Picky eating usually begins between the ages of 2 and 6 when children are most neophobic — afraid of new things. Some children get stuck here for a while. Picky eaters may be overall more cautious, hesitant, or sensitive in their approach to things. Picky eaters may be more strong-willed. They may have textures they don’t tolerate, or could be super tasters — they experience tastes more strongly than other people.

What can be even scarier to the picky eater is the reaction their rejection of new or disliked foods causes. Children by nature want to please people. If tension is present or arises in the feeding relationship, the child who is neophobic is further stressed by the pressure to try new foods. Soon tension is a constant companion at the table. Perhaps caregivers even disagree and argue and about how to handle the situation. Some children tense up just talking about trying new foods. And they want to please you, but they just can’t bring themselves to try.

So how can you make them try new things? How will you ever make them eat? You can’t! But you can follow this list of do’s and don’ts to create a safe environment and healthy feeding relationship to (eventually) help your neophobe take one brave foot forward:


— DO respect the Division of Feeding Responsibility. Provide meals and snacks, timed 2-3 hours apart including at least one liked food along with new or non-preferred food. Let your child choose what, how much, and whether to eat at all.

— DO expect them to join you at the table for a reasonable period of time with appropriate behavior and be respectful of the food you have provided.

— DO sit down and eat and enjoy the food you want your child to eat.

— DO give positive attention for foods they try.

— DO suggest (only one time!) they taste each item. Let them know they can spit it out. Children are more likely to taste if they are free to spit it out without chewing or swallowing.

— DON’T stare, wait, nag, or cajole.

— DON’T make them anything else to eat.

— DON’T let them eat again until the next planned meal or snack.

— DON’T bribe! For a child a bribe translates into “Wow! It must be awful if they’ll do anything to make me eat it!”

— DON’T withhold other foods as a bribe to try or eat the non-preferred items.


You can read all 4 parts of Jennifer Yoon’s ongoing series on Picky Eating here.


*** Jennifer Yoon sees patients at the Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair office. For an appointment, please call (412) 221-2121. Read more from Jennifer on The PediaBlog here.