Dealing with a Picky Eater

  Filed under: Feeding Development, Parent Education, Raleigh Therapy Services

Are meal times a struggle for you and your little one? You are not alone. The struggle to get your child to eat is very real and quite often a frequent frustration for parents of toddlers.

You may have noticed that your child’s picky eating surfaced after she turned one and gained new skills like feeding herself. She’s now aware that she can choose what and how much of something she wants to eat. She now has more “control” over her plate and portions. Some days she may choose to eat a lot, others days she may refuse items that she usually eats without fuss.

Another tactic newly independent eaters may employ is eating only familiar foods or refusing to eat certain foods for silly reasons like color or shape. This behavior happens when a child attempts to create “sameness” to promote feelings of safety and security.

Fortunately, for most children, picky eating is merely a developmental stage that will quickly pass. In the meanwhile, you can help your child get through this pretentious palate phase for more enjoyable mealtime experiences.

Say No to Bribes and Force-Feeding

As easy as it is to offer up a bribe to convince your daughter to eat her vegetables to earn dessert, do your best to resist the urge and endless plate pleas. A child who learns to make deals about eating will also discover the power to make deals and ask for rewards for doing other tasks. Bribes at the dinner table may lead to your child expecting rewards for other things like brushing her teeth, picking up her toys, or cooperating with the task at hand.

You should also avoid forcing your daughter to eat if she isn’t interested or hungry. At her young age, her stomach is about the size of a small, clenched fist; it doesn’t take much to fill it. Force-feeding her will teach her to rely on others to tell her how much to eat and when she is full. Force-feeding can also lead her to eat less and make her picky eating behaviors worse.

Present New Foods Again and Again (and Again)

Research shows that children need to see a new food at least 10 times before they may be willing to try it. Increase your daughter’s exposure to new foods by asking her to help you prepare meals. Give her the chance to touch the food, help measure and stir. She’ll be excited to see and taste the foods she creates.

You can also implement food crafts as part of your daughter’s playtime activities. Let your daughter touch, smell and play with different snack items like pretzels, carrot sticks, raisins, puffs, whatever you have around the house. Seeing different foods in a new light will help her become comfortable with the idea of eating them.

Build A Routine

Toddlers like predictability. Establishing a structured feeding routine with timely snacks and meals will help curb your daughter’s grazing behaviors and allow her to feel hunger that will likely lead her to eat to fullness during meal times.

Serve It All Up

Do your best to offer up a mix of foods with different textures, tastes and smells that your daughter likes and dislikes. Introduce new foods along with the foods she already likes to eat. Give her the same foods the rest of the family is eating in small, toddler-sized portions. Over time, these new choices should become as liked and familiar as her favorite foods.

When is picky eating more than picky eating?

While it is common for toddlers to go through a picky eating phase, it’s important to remember that it shouldn’t last long. If it does, you may want to speak with your pediatrician to determine if your child’s behavior is stemming from underlying medical, oral motor or developmental issues.

You can trust your pediatrician to assess your concerns and help determine if a pediatric feeding therapist should evaluate your daughter to offer further insight into the situation.


Image Credit: