From “Yucky!” to “Yummy!” – Transforming your Picky Eater
By: Lynn and Jim Jackson of Connected Families
Do power struggles over food often spoil your mealtime? Fear not! You can learn to avoid the fights and your kids can learn to eat healthy food. The key to taking the wind out of your kids’ “picky eater” sails is to learn to do your responsibility well, and let your children be responsible for their intake.
For starters, try to remember this simple rule about who’s responsible for what:
Parents are responsible for what is presented and the way it is presented.
Children are responsible for how much and even whether they eat!
(The ideas in each category are ordered from general suggestions to those appropriate for very picky eaters.)
Offer many HEALTHY FOODS
- Provide variety. Children need repeated exposure to a variety of nutritional food. At the store, remember: If you don’t want your children to eat it, don’t buy it.
- Serve small portions. Young children are easily overwhelmed by large chunks or portions.
- Limit drinks with calories. Offer mostly water between meals. (Limit juice/milk.)
- Don’t reward with dessert. Rewarding vegetable eating with dessert, for example, gives a strong message: the sweets are “yummy” and the vegetables are “yucky.” Instead just have dessert once or twice a week as a regular part of a meal – whether kids finish their vegetables or not.
- Include one preferred food, but refuse to “special order cook”! At each meal include one food you know your child will eat, sampling some yourself. Create an “our food” mentality, not “my food, your food.”
- Modify favorite foods. If your child is a strongly picky eater and wants only a few certain foods, serve them only once every other day and modify them slightly in size, shape, color, flavor, etc. – just enough so that your child will notice, but not get upset. This builds flexibility in eating as you gradually increase the variety.
Create an ENJOYABLE MEALTIME environment
- Have regular sit-down family meals, with positive conversation and atmosphere and no TV or distractions.
- Refuse to engage in power struggles related to what or how much your child chooses to eat.
- Pass food. When capable, children should be encouraged to pass food and place servings on their own plates.
- Allow messiness/play. For young children: allow/encourage some messiness and playful exploration of food, especially at snacks. Exploring and playing with food is an important part of development in which children learn about food and learn to enjoy it.
- Talk about your enjoyment of the food. Describe the food’s size, color, shape, texture, smell, taste, etc. In a relaxed way, talk about why you enjoy it, and how it is similar to a food which your child accepts.
Use POSITIVE BEHAVIORAL STRATEGIES
- Use “You can” language. As often as possible, replace demands or questions (such as “Can you ____?”) with “You can _______.” i.e. “You can try that new food.” “NO!” “You can when you’re ready.”
- State the rules in a neutral way. Whenever possible avoid saying “Stop,” “Don’t,” or “No” at meals. Instead state rules regarding appropriate behavior in specific terms, i.e. “The food stays on the table,” “Chairs are for sitting not standing,” “We use our inside voices at the table.”
- Gently affirm sampling of new foods. Do not pressure, manipulate, reward or excessively praise children for eating. These tactics imply children wouldn’t naturally want to eat the food, i.e. there’s something wrong with it. Observations like, “I see you tried something new,” or “We’re both eating our peas,” are helpful. Your child should realize he is eating something of his own choice, not to please you.
- Teach your children the “10 Times Rule:” Research shows that it takes about 10x’s of trying a food to know if you like it.
Research consistently shows that attempts to make children eat certain foods are more harmful than helpful. One study even revealed that children who were rewarded for eating a new food were less likely to eat it the next time it was served, than were children who were simply presented the food! So how can parents encourage children to eat a greater variety of healthy food? The answer: do your responsibility well, and don’t take over your child’s responsibility! Next time: Eating your peas in peace – Managing the Mayhem at Mealtime
 Ellen Satyr, How to Get Your Kid to Eat, But Not Too Much
To view Part two and three go to