How to Stop Fighting with Your Picky Eater

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What to do if your child is a picky eater by Parenting without Power Struggles author Susan StiffelmanDoes your child seem to hate everything you offer them for meals and snacks? End dinnertime drama with simple, sane advice from Susan Stiffelman, author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm, and Connected.

Food is one of only two areas where a child has ultimate control. (The other is pooping!) We can beg, plead, bribe, and cajole children to try their broccoli or finish their soup, but we cannot force them to eat without creating immense drama, and in some cases, contributing to eating disorders down the road.

Still, it’s often frustrating—and worrisome—to deal with a picky eater. Parents often ask me how to get their youngster to eat dinner without negotiations, arguments, or willful refusal of requests to “Just try it!” or “Take one more bite!”

My advice is this: Provide healthy food for your children, serve it in appealing and small portions, make dinner a fun time to engage with the family through lively conversation or table games, and then go about eating the meal without fixating on whether your child is or isn’t eating. If Hank turns up his nose at what you’ve served, simply say something like, “If you don’t like what we’re having, there’s hummus and pita in the fridge; help yourself.” The less you are obsessed with what your child is eating, the less interesting it will be to refuse to eat. Always have nutritious finger foods and snacks that your youngster can prepare if he doesn’t want to at dinner, and carry on enjoying your own without a lot of discussion or fuss.

Keep in mind that some children’s extreme dislike of more than a limited variety of foods may indicate sensitivity and/or sensory processing issues; for these kids, unusual tastes and textures are extremely unpleasant. Consistent refusal to eat can also indicate food allergies. Never force a child to eat; if you have long-standing concerns about your youngster’s nutrition or health, consult a physician.

By managing our own reactions as we navigate the many and varied challenges of raising our children and keeping an eye on the “weather” by preventing predictable problems, we can enjoy smooth sailing and enjoy the journey together.

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