Back to articles Panicked over Picky Eaters

Categories: Parenting

Are your kids picky eaters? Don't panic, Alyson Schafer provides some great tips on how to improve meal time struggles.

Is your child a picky eater?

  • Will your child only eat one or two foods or food groups?
  • Is their idea of a wide range of food every thing from french fries to tater tots?
  • Do they push away anything resembling a vegetable?
  • Do they love anything that comes individually wrapped?

Are you the parent of a picky eater?

- Do you worry your child might suffer from lack of nutrition?
- Do you serve different meals to different family members according to their eating preferences?
- Do you eat your own dinner after your children have eaten because you want “adult” food?

If you answered yes to any of the above I have some thoughts for you:

Most parental concern is about the picky eater’s health since they appear to lack nutritional balance. I suggest that their primary concern should be the life lessons that catering to a picky eater can inadvertently teach.

Parents take their job seriously when it comes to the basics of life and tend to get very busy when it comes to their child’s eating. This concern results in parents giving in to kids’ demands in the name of nutrition and avoiding starvation.

But consider for a moment how truly rare hunger and malnutrition are in North America. Malnutrition in the form of vitamin deficiencies is almost completely unheard of in affluent developed countries that have processed breads, cereals, and milk with essential vitamins and minerals added as a public health measure. And humans can go seven days without food. While extended time without food is not recommended, a few hours of waiting for a cracker is not going to be the end of anyone.

On the other hand, sharing food is an essential part of family living and a child must learn how to live as part of a whole, and understand that others have their own individual tastes and preferences too. Sharing and cooperating within the family builds the child’s understanding of how to cooperate in a world where not everyone can have their way at all times.

So look at picky eating as an opportunity to rid your child of the mistaken belief that the road of life bends to their path. Instead, work with your child to find cooperative solutions.

Dealing With Picky Eaters

Keep A Record
Parents think kids are not eating because they don’t eat at meal times. I suggest parents write down everything their children eat for a week before commencing this plan.

You will probably find that there is plenty going in outside of set meal times. It is all the form of juice bottles, raisin boxes, Dunkeroos, and gnawed on bagels eaten in a car seat. These “snack-meals” are displacing meals served at the table. Kids learn to not eat meals at the table and instead choose to wait to eat “snack meals” instead.

Create Routines
The first step in helping your child be a co-operative eater is serving meals and snacks at predictable times. For young children, three meals a day plus a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon snack (and I mean just a nibble) should do it. If you offer some fruit before bedtime you can feel secure that your child is being offered an opportunity to fuel their bodies healthily every few hours.

Not Eating Is A Choice
If you have made and served good food, your work is done. It is a child’s responsibility to eat from the choices served.

Some children will choose NO food from the table, as they may feel everything is yucky. That is okay. They can excuse themselves. You can wrap up their plate and pop it in the fridge.

Don’t concern yourself or make a fuss about what they eat at meal times. Let the natural consequence of hunger do the teaching. Hungry children will eat.

Picky eaters don’t usually get a chance to experience true hunger – their parents jump in too fast and save them through catering to their preferences or compensating with big yummy snacks. Avoid this by following the routine and order without exception.

If your picky eater complains of hunger after the meal you can offer them to eat from their wrapped up plate in the fridge at any time.

Offer Limited Choices
Parents can control the choices by only buying and offering good healthy food choices. Kids can’t sneak and demand food that is not there.

Offer More Choice Through Planning
If your child refuses to eat what is served and demands their own preferred food - they are giving you their input on meal choices, which is okay. But when the meal is on the table is not the appropriate time to influence the meal plan. Stick with the meal plan and do not make alterations or offer substitutions.

Instead, include your child in planning the family menu so they can pick days everyone eats their choices. You are showing them that you will be okay eating their grilled-cheese sandwich dinner and in return they will have to live through eating your meatloaf and mashed potatoes. Everyone has some give and take in the family.



Alyson Schäfer is a psychotherapist, parent coach, popular public speaker and host of "The Parenting Show" Rogers Television.. She teaches parent education classes and works with parents one-on-one in her parent coaching practice. For more information on Alyson, please visit her website at