How to Get Your Picky Eater to Eat

One of the biggest concerns for parents is when their child doesn’t eat. I had one of these picky eaters, and to see a kid eat three bites for each meal is really a little scary. You might think, “How can they survive?”

First of all, keep up with their regular, yearly doctor visits so that you can chart and record if they are growing at an average rate. If your child has always been in the 25th percentile on the growth charts, then that’s just your child and his or her uniqueness. But if your child started out in the 90th percentile and is now down to the 10th percentile, this will clue you and your doctor to investigate and find out if there is some type of serious problem.

Next, you have to take into account all the snacks, juice, and milk that you’ve fed your child between meals in order to accurately decide if your child is eating enough.

Children should not drink more than 4-6 ounces of juice per day. If they do drink more juice, this fills them up without giving them the variety of nutrients that they need. And juice does not include the full spectrum of nutrients that you will find if you feed them fresh fruit.

Water is as important for your children as it is for you. If they don’t like the taste of water, and don’t acquire a taste in a matter of days with water as their main option when thirsty, you probably need a water purifier. This will improve the taste and make it easier to persuade your children to drink water.

Another subject around kids eating is forcing kids to stay at the table and finish all of their food. It really doesn’t work to make your child sit at the table for hours. It never worked for me as a kid and I don’t suppose it worked if your parents made you sit for three hours, either. The theory these days is that if you force a child to always clean his plate, this will promote obesity. You want a child to recognize when they are full and not overeat.

One strategy for getting your picky eater to eat more at a meal is to cut down on snacks between meals so that your child is hungrier when meal time does come.

An example of this is when I realized that I was giving my light eater a snack only an hour and a half before supper because he was begging me for food and I wanted him to eat more. When I stopped feeding him whenever he asked for food and put up with the “I’m so hungry!”, his eating habits got better. A snack three hours before a meal is fine and recommended.

Also, do not give any more food, snacks, or dessert unless your child has eaten the previous meal. Put what they don’t eat–if you placed kid-sized portions (the size of their palm or fist) on their plate in the first place–in the fridge and if they are hungry later, pull the plate out of the fridge and heat it up. It almost never fails that they eat some more of their supper at this later time. If not, they go to bed hungry and eat pretty well at breakfast. You just have to stick to your rules, so the child knows what to expect.

Side note: You are doing your children a disservice if you make special meals for them instead of the meal you are cooking for yourself. This encourages the picky eater to continue to be picky. You will do your children a favor if you serve a variety of foods and give them exposure to different tastes and textures. They don’t have to like everything. They do have to try everything.

Sometimes when I say “no dessert unless you finish your supper”, my light eater will finish his supper and not want any dessert because he’s full. This is OK!

There’s also the picky eater that only eats the meat at one meal, or only the vegetable or only the pasta for another meal. You have to look at the overall intake of food over several days to judge if your child is getting enough of a variety of foods. If they only eat pasta every meal, this is a problem. But if they vary between the different food groups- meats, grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables-then you probably don’t have to worry about severe deficiencies.

Offer your child raw fruit or raw veggies at every meal and snack, if possible. Encourage them to eat as much of these kinds of food as they like. A child can get lots of nutrition through fruits and vegetables. Few people realize that there is even a small amount of protein in most fruits.

Never tell your kids that they can’t have more of a raw fruit or vegetable, if they want more. If the food is raw, in its original state, children instinctively can tell when their body needs more. They will ask for more, so give it to them. They will not be able to verbalize why they need more of a certain raw food, but if they’re asking for more of something that’s good for them, allow it, please.

You cannot force your picky eater to eat, but you can offer only healthier choices, so that you know they are getting the nutrients needed to grow healthy and strong.