5 Tips for Rehabilitating a Picky Eater

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Is there anything more frustrating than a picky eater? Rushing around at the end of the day to put a healthy and tasty meal on the table only to have your child scream in disgust and refuse to eat any dinner. I’ve been at my wits end so many times, but you see we’ve been playing the long game, so it has taken some time to see the fruits of our labor. We don’t count bites, use bribes, or take away dessert. It’s not my job to control how much my child eats; it’s only my job to provide healthy meals and encourage a good relationship with food.

Here are 5 things that have helped our picky eater become not so picky:

1. Eat dinner as a family.

The number one thing you can do is stop feeding kids their own “kid-friendly” dinner. I know that this isn’t possible for all families due to work schedules, but find a way to make sure you are all eating the same thing. I totally get the temptation to give kids dino nuggets with a side of mac and cheese at 5pm so you can eat your enjoy your peaceful adult dinner at 8pm. And once in a blue moon, we make these separate dinners, but it isn’t a regular thing. Kids needs need to be exposed to seeing their parents eat the same thing. We can’t expect our kids to eat healthy if we don’t eat healthy so being a good role model goes a long way.

2. Make food that tastes good.

This seems obvious but I feel like we often feed kids bland veggies. I personally hate flavorless steamed veggies, so I really don’t expect kids to eat vegetables that way. But roasted vegetables with salt and maybe some garlic? I could eat a whole bowl of that! Let kids put butter or cheese on their veggies-make it exciting and fun. And if they don’t, more for you!

3. Have a familiar food at each meal.

For dinner, I often try to serve bread or rice as a side so that there is something for my kids to eat even if they aren’t interested in the main course. There were so many days where my son only ate bread but you know what? Kids get sick of bread after a while and they will try something else at the table. Trust me this works!

4. Keep healthy food accessible at all times.

We keep the bottom drawer of the refrigerator stocked with veggies that they can grab at any time. We also have a bin of “anytime snacks” that is child height in the pantry. Bowls and cups are also in a bottom drawer so they can help themselves. Having access to these things can help foster a sense of independence and pride. Encourage kids to grab their own snack if they are hungry.

5. Be ok with your child not eating.

Children will not starve themselves. Unless your pediatrician has told you that your child is underweight please stop worrying about them eating at every meal. We don’t bargain for bites or bribe with dessert. Food is just food, and you can either eat it or not eat it. This is also something that goes a long way toward developing a healthy relationship with food. We need to take the emotion out of eating and let our kids learn to trust their bodies when they are not hungry.

Now let me be clear, my child is still not an adventurous eater by any means, but he is light years ahead of where he was last year. Most nights, he will try the dinner, and now he has discovered he loves tacos, steak, and even linguini and clams! This is the kid who at age 2 only wanted goldfish crackers or PB&J. You can get through your picky eater, but it does take some effort and also some serious patience. Stay strong and be consistent. Let me know your tips and tricks for helping picky eaters become less picky. Bon apatite!

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