Picky Eating: Get Your Picky Eater to Eat… Eventually

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


In the world of child nutrition, the million dollar question is, “So, how can I get my child to eat?” If you have been reading the posts in my picky eating series, you can guess the short answer is, “You can’t!” But there are many things you can do to foster a positive feeding environment that will help your little eater to come out of his picky shell when he is ready.

First and foremost, keep a positive atmosphere at mealtimes. Mom, dad, and siblings should sit, enjoy their meal, and discuss the events of the day. No negative energy or talk should take place regarding what, how much or whether the picky eater is eating.

Focus on behaviors you can control. You can expect your child to sit at the table and behave appropriately for a reasonable amount of time. If getting your picky eater to the table and keeping them there is an issue, start with 10 minutes and work up a little at a time until the child sits for the entire meal with the family. Limit food accessibility to planned meals and snacks.

Take the pressure off eating. Kids who are picky eaters often express stress and nervousness about meal times and trying new foods. The discussion, build up, stress, and worry about trying a food and the resulting negativity, frustration, and disappointment for not trying the new food creates a fight or flight reaction in the picky eater.

Do not provide alternative meals for the picky eater. Be sure there is one liked item. Put the other foods the family is having on the plate. For some picky eaters, getting used to having these items on the plate will take time. Repeated exposure is key!

Once the food is on the plate, your job is done. Don’t watch them, remind them to eat, nag, or cajole. Do not bribe them! The kid translation is, “If they have to bribe me, it must be terrible!” You may encourage them to taste it — once! And let them know they can spit it out. Children are more likely to taste if they know they can spit it out.

Be patient! This will take time, especially if eating has been a long term challenge in your household. You can’t make them eat, but you can create a safe atmosphere free of negativity that will, at minimum, result in a more pleasant mealtime for the whole family.


You can read all 5 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.