Picky Eaters

You are not a terrible parent if you can’t figure out a way for your child to eat as healthy as your friend’s children do.  (Steve Wiens from his blog The Actual Pastor)

Ellyn Satter, MS RD LCSW BCD, a researcher and practitioner in the field of pediatric feeding practices, explains that both parents and children have their own “jobs” to do when it comes to eating. Parents are responsible for providing healthy foods for meals and snacks and children are responsible for what and how much they eat.

There are a few things parents should avoid when trying to encourage a child to learn healthy eating behavior:  do not force a child to eat and do not nag or make a deal about eating.

When a parent forces a child to eat the child often eats less. Forcing a child to eat also teaches a child to rely on others to tell them how much to eat and what they are feeling. This does not lead to healthy eating habits or good self-esteem. In fact, some research has shown that forcing children to eat actually can make picky eating behavior worse (Sanders, Patel, Le Grice, & Shepherd, 1993).

Nagging or making deals with your child don’t work in the long run either. Children who learn to make deals about eating learn to make deals and ask for rewards for doing other things!

Tips for Parents to Encourage Healthy Eating Habits

  • Track your child’s food sensitivities and keep them in mind when preparing meals.
  • Avoid preparing special meals for your child but make sure that there is something he likes on the plate at each meal.
  • Provide toddler size portions of the food the family is eating. Over time, these choices will become familiar.
  • Involve your child in preparing food. Handling, smelling, and touching the food helps your child get comfortable with the idea of eating it.
  • Offer new kinds of foods frequently. Children may need to be offered a new food as many as 10-15 times before they will eat it.
  • Offer safe “finger foods” that your child can feed herself and have healthy foods like raisins, grapes and cheerios available if s/he gets hungry.

Do you want to learn more? Contact the Mid-Hudson Early Childhood Direction Center at 845-565-1162 extension 209.