Picky Eating: Stop Handouts and Grazing!

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


Goldfish, cereal, yogurt melts, puffs, pouches — all conveniently packaged for families on-the-go to feed their little ones on-the-run. It is a common complaint: “If I didn’t follow him around with little bites here and there, he would never eat anything.” On the contrary, these items and the constant grazing and handouts may be the very reason your child doesn’t sit and eat meals.

Remember when your child was an infant and ate every hour? You dreamed of the day they would go three hours between feedings. Yet many parents of toddlers follow them around with snacks constantly and allow them unlimited access to foods. It is developmentally appropriate for a toddler to eat 3 meals and 1-2 snacks, each around 2-3 hours apart. There is also developmental benefit from a child using utensils or their hands to self feed rather than sucking food from a pouch. Snacks should be deliberate, balanced, and preferably eaten in a high chair or at the table, timed to make the most of meal times.

Metabolically, our bodies are made to eat every 2-3 hours. Chemical reactions signaling hunger and satiety are vital functions that can, if left undisturbed, help us eat the right amount of food to nourish our bodies and provide calories and protein needed for growth. Constant grazing derails the natural process of hunger and satiety. Children are not given the opportunity to become hungry, and walking around eating small quantities, they don’t experience satiety, either. Grazers instead associate food with entertainment and comfort.

Regarding Picky Eaters, Ellyn Satter writes in her classic book, How to get Your Kid to Eat…But Not Too Much, “Having regular meals and snacks and limiting the between time eating is the beginning of the solution… It frightens [children] when feeding is irregular and unreliable. They worry they won’t be taken care of”.

If grazing and handouts are interfering with your child’s meals, make a schedule for yourself and other caregivers and be consistent. Eliminate all snacking, juice, and milk between these times. If you don’t think you can make such a radical change, work on one part of the day, then advance to the others. Tackling this challenge will result in a radical improvement in your child’s mealtime behavior and intake. They will experience hunger and satiety and learn to trust their body to regulate their intake.


You can read all 6 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.