Overcoming a Picky Eater

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As a parent, grandparent, or even an aunt or uncle, you may be concerned with what and how a child or children in your life eats. You may be worried they are not getting enough to eat, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, or eating too much of one particular food. If I told you not to worry, this is normal and can be overcome, would you believe me? Well, it is true! What many refer to as picky eating can be easily overcome with a little bit of patience and keeping the following guidelines in mind.

The most important concept to remember when feeding a child is the division of responsibility. As a caregiver you have certain responsibilities, as does the child, when it comes to feeding and eating. The caregiver is responsible for choosing and preparing the food, providing regular meals, showing the child how to behave at mealtime, and being considerate without catering to the child. Responsibilities of the child are to know the amount they need, learn to eat the foods their parents/caregiver provide, grow as they should, and learn how to behave well at mealtime. To aid in the division of responsibility, keep these key points in mind:

  • All food is new to a child. They have never experienced this food before, so it may or may not be liked the first time they try it. All young children are more or less picky about food.
  • You are a child’s biggest example – what they see you eating and doing, they are more likely to eat/do themselves.
  • A child may eat a food, but not every time it’s offered to them.
  • A child is unlikely to eat some of everything – if all they eat is one or two items, that is okay.

If you find yourself faced with a picky eater, here are a few ways to avoid picky eating:

  • Pair familiar foods with unfamiliar foods.
  • Stop counting what your child is eating. Remember it is only your responsibility to provide him or her with nutritious meals.
  • It’s okay to take “no thank you” as an answer. If your child says they don’t want something, kindly let them know that is what is available, and if they are not hungry, it will be available when they are. Do not take the time to prepare a special meal just to get your child to eat – this encourages picky eating.
  • Repeated exposure to a new food is key – it can take up to 20 tries before a child decides they actually like a new food; this is where the patience comes in to play.

The last thing to keep in mind is your child will grow into the right body for them. Many parents/caregivers worry when their child doesn’t “look” like the average child. The only cause for concern is when your child’s weight or height dramatically or abruptly changes. You, as a parent/caregiver, are responsible for helping your child grow into that body that is right for them. This is done by feeding them in the best way, limiting time on electronics and encouraging outside activities, and making sure you and your child feel good about the body they have. For more information, please contact Jessie Jones, Extension Family and Consumer Sciences Agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Robeson County Center, at    910-671-3276, by E-mail at jessie_jones@ncsu.edu, or visit our website at https://robeson.ces.ncsu.edu/.