Parenting the Picky Eater
Why Johnny won't eat
Beware of Over-Snacking
Sometimes the problem isn't so much that the child doesn't like new foods, it may be that they are already full, says Ward. A common culprit is fluid. "Kids can consume a lot of their calories from milk and juice," she says.
The same goes for snacks that provide little more than calories like chips, sweets, and sodas. "If you are going to offer snacks, make sure they are supplementing meals, not sabotaging them," Ward says.
Establish "Bottom-Line Limits"
Having a set of bottom-line limits can help a parent provide some consistency, says Johnston Pawel. For example, some parents may have the rule "nutritious foods before snack food." Or that kids have to at least try a new food before rejecting it.
"Consistency only works if what you are doing in the first place is reasonable," she says. So try to avoid overly controlling or overly permissive rules. If bottom-line limits are healthy, effective, and balanced, they'll pay off, she says.
Examine Your Role Model
Make sure you aren't asking kids to "do as I say, not as I do," says Johnston Pawel. If your own diet is based mainly on fat, sugar, and salt, you can hardly expect your child to embrace a dinner salad over fries.
Don't make your child's eating habits part of the mealtime discussion, says Ward. Otherwise every meal becomes a stressful event, centered on what the child does and does not eat. Ward suggests parents reserve talks about the importance of good eating for later, perhaps at bedtime or story time. Catharine says this approach has worked for her. "I work hard to make it a nonissue," she says. "Otherwise it would make me crazy."
Give It Time
"I find that children become much more open to trying new foods after the age of 5," says Ward. "Most of the time kids will simply grow out of limited eating," she says.
Catharine is looking forward to that day. "In the meantime, as long as Fenner is growing and reaching all her developmental goals, I'm OK with her eating the same foods over and over," she says.
Melissa says Brandon's somewhat eccentric demands are already improving. She's been working with him to learn that while he can have preferences, his every wish can't always be accommodated. A recent outing to a restaurant provided a small victory when Brandon was able to eat something even though it wasn't exactly as he wanted it.
"Hang in there," Melissa advises other parents. "Make sure they know you love them, stick to your guns, and it will all come out OK in the end."