Dr. G Answers Your Picky Eater Questions

girl eating fruit

Picky eaters through the ages!  Parents of kids of all ages speak up about the battle to get healthy food into kids.

“My 2 year old is extremely picky and sometimes won't eat anything I cook at mealtime, what can I do to encourage better eating habits and a more varied diet?  Help!”

The toddler years are the most common time for these battles, and the reason has nothing to do with food! What? That’s right. You are fighting the basic development of toddlerhood.

Does your child love to have the same few bedtime stories every night? Want to watch the same movie or TV episode over and over again? For the same reason that your baby would throw a sippy cup and watch you pick it up 183 times without getting bored, our kids love repetition at this age.

When your child wants to eat the same three foods, it isn’t because he is an inherently picky eater. It is because he wants to know exactly how his food will taste before he eats it! Kids this age Do. Not. Like. Unpredictability.

So what can you do? Well, you can feed him macaroni and cheese, fruit and cereal every meal for the next 1-5 years, OR… you can teach him to handle a little change.

When you are planning a meal, you probably think about 3 parts. Vegetable (half the plate), protein (1/4 of the plate) and starch (1/4 of the plate) are great guidelines.

Here is the trick: don’t ever introduce more than one “suspicious” food per meal. Want your child to eat a vegetable she’s never seen or has seen but thinks she doesn’t like? Match it with a starch and protein that she is totally comfortable eating.

Then (and here is the really controversial part)… don’t argue! Your child does not have to eat that new food. However… if she wants seconds on either the protein or the starch, she is going to have to try the new food. How much she tries is up to you, but she doesn’t get any seconds until she has met your requirement for the new food. You don’t need to argue with her at all!

“My five year old used to eat anything and now he says “No!” to anything even a little bit healthy!”

Arguing makes many kids focus on the power struggle. You can refuse to struggle. You will not give junk food. But you will also not make him sit at the table until he eats it, beg him to eat it, bribe him to eat it or yell at him to eat it.

What if he refuses the entire meal?! Your child will not starve. Let him know that this is the only food available to eat until the next meal, and that you will save this plate in the fridge in case he changes his mind later. Don’t give other foods or snacks in an hour!

The way to stop the battle is to stop having the battle. Don’t be worried that your child is wasting away from the lack of seconds on pasta, or even the lack of dinner entirely. Kids are very practical. When we hold firm and eliminate the drama, they start eating more.


“My 10 year old is heavy. How do I get her to eat healthy foods?”

Healthy foods are an important part of being a healthy weight, but it’s not the whole story. It’s best to avoid talking to your daughter about weight loss or dieting. Instead, talk to her about being healthy and fit.

Here are a few suggestions (I know you may be doing a lot of these already!):

  1. Don’t buy anything you don’t want your daughter to eat. It’s tempting to get “kid” food and “adult” food for home, but right now your daughter needs you to remove temptation and to model really healthy eating yourself.
  2. Find a way for your daughter to be vigorously active for at least 60 minutes a day. Sadly, recess doesn’t count. Ask her to write down 10 active things she loves to do (soccer, dance, jumprope, biking, swimming…). Get out the calendar and start putting these on it!
  3. Eat dinner together and don’t serve it buffet style or leave the serving dishes on the table. Have everyone take a 10 minute break before getting seconds, to see if they’re still hungry.
  4. Make sure she eats breakfast.
  5. Eat out once a week or less. This includes take-out and fast food.
  6. Get professional help. If you are worried about your 10 year old’s weight, talk to her doctor. Most cities and towns have great resources for helping kids get and maintain healthy bodies.

Our kids know that we can’t make them eat. This is a great opportunity for them to learn to be responsible for their own health. We just have to make sure they don’t take away our sanity as they learn!

Image via Flickr: Bruce Tuten

What do you think?

Dr. G Answers Your Picky Eater Questions

Doctor G. (Deborah Gilboa, MD) empowers parents to raise respectful, responsible and resilient kids. Around the country and around the world, she works with parents to increase their knowledge and to utilize the parenting instincts they already have. Her acclaimed book "Get the Behavior You Want... Without Being the Parent You Hate!" is available now. As a Board Certified Family Physician, mother of four, author of Teach Resilience: Raising Kids Who Can Launch! and a professional parenting speak ... More

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1 comment

  1. Alison Lee says:

    Great advice, Dr. G!


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