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Let’s Stop Calling Children “Picky” Eaters

There are a number of reasons I’m suggesting this, but the main one is this:

It’s not very nice.

It’s a label given to children who are very selective about what they eat.  This can be for a number of reasons:

a. They are uncomfortable with the sight, texture, smell or idea of this food – they truly don’t like it

b. They aren’t hungry (possibly due to constant grazing between meals and snacks)

c. They like the attention they get from being known as a “picky eater”

d. They like to have power over you – they love it when you beg them to eat

There may be other reasons, also.  The solution is the same for all types:

  1. Don’t give attention to it.
  2. Stop worrying that this little person is going to starve to death.  When children are very hungry, they eat.  “Picky eating” is unheard of in Third World countries.
  3. Ditch this label and give your child the right to have authentic food preferences.  After all, don’t you have your own authentic food preferences?
  4. Stop being a short order cook. However, you can make sure to always provide food on the table that you know your “selective eater” will eat, such as bread, butter and jam, fresh fruit, or apple slices with peanut butter, and milk.  Meal choices that make everyone happy are ones where children get to choose their own toppings or put their own meals together, such as taco bar, baked potato bar, or make your own pizza.
  5. Bring this child in the kitchen to cook.  Involvement in food preparation has been shown to increase ownership in meals, and improve eating habits.

Ellyn Satter, RD, LSW from the Ellyn Satter Institute reminds parents that there is peace at the dinner table when parents are in charge of providing food and children take responsibility for what and how they eat.  She created this Division of Responsibility guideline many years ago, and it has stood the test of time and research.  May I repeat: you are in charge of providing the food (and in a pleasant atmosphere.)  The child’s job is to decide what and how much to eat.  (If they eat nothing, no biggie.  Please do not make your child sit there til 9 p.m. staring at limp brussel sprouts. I guarantee you he will not learn to love brussel sprouts this way.  The opposite will occur.  In the meantime, you will get all bent out of shape for nothing.)

And as we speak of this, you may even be thinking, “Dinner table… what’s that?”  If that is something that you think of for holidays only, then we really need to talk.  While it is true that so many families are going off in different directions that it seems almost impossible to congregate together for a meal, please know there are simple and very viable strategies for this.  The good news is, all the work does not fall on your shoulders.

The point is that research shows that eating together as a family is one of the most important habits a family can have for the well-being of the children.  The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse report has made this statement, “A revival of the family dinner in America will do more to curb kids from smoking, drinking and using drugs than any law or public health campaign.”

Eating together as a family is meant to be one of the joys of life.  It wasn’t meant to be frustrating or maddening.  It is a time to share family values and stay in touch with what each family member is doing.  While not every dinner table will be perfectly set, it doesn’t need to be.  With some assistance, you can make dinnertime a consistent reality in your home, while eliminating “picky eating.”  How does that sound for a  great way to kick-off the summer?

My Fit Family, Healthy Family, online coaching class starts June 14th.  We will be discussing these and other child nutrition issues.  In addition, each person will be setting their own family nutrition goals in this 6 week class so by the end of it, you will have had the support of others in achieving that goal!  Let’s make this summer the one where you got your family’s eating and fitness habits under control!  

For more info, please email me at [email protected] or to register, go to find this class, and click on BOOK. Yes, it’s that easy!  Please sign up today as class size is limited to 12 people.

Photo courtesy of Dana Rothstein.

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