Food decisions for picky eaters

This week we welcome guest blogger Renee Sweers.Renee is a mother of 4, grandmother of 3, a registered dietitian, and a Human Sciences Specialist in Nutrition and Wellness.

When my eight-year-old daughter said, “Please pass the melon.”  I nearly fell out of my chair! This was the girl that didn’t eat fruit, other than apples and plums!  I wouldn’t call her a picky eater, but when it came to fruit, she was.  Not only did she eat cantaloupe at that meal, but she slowly added more fruits to her diet and as an adult eats many different fruits.

I tell this incident for a few reasons:  1) Don’t stop offering foods just because a child doesn’t think they like them; you never know when they might give them a try.  Research tells us children may need to be offered a food 10 – 15 time before they will try it. 2)  Don’t bargain with children about eating.  If we had been forcing her to try melon over the years she may not have been willing to start eating it at age eight.  3)  Take heart!  A child who is picky may grow up to eat a wide variety of foods as an adult.

According to Ellyn Satter, a dietitian, family therapist and expert in feeding children, both adults and children have certain ‘responsibilities’ or ‘decisions’ when it comes to food.

Adult Decisions:

-What a child should eat:  Offer a variety of foods from all five food groups of MyPlate every day.  Be sure to offer at least one food at every meal that the child likes

-When and Where a child should eat:  Offer meals at regular times each day.  Offer snacks equally spaced between meals.  Eat with the child at a table and turn off the TV and other distractions.

Child Decisions:

-How much to eat and which foods to eat. Don’t bribe a child to eat.  Don’t require one bite.  Respect them when they say they are full.

-Whether or not to eat.  Occasionally a child doesn’t want to eat.  It is fine to require them to ‘sit at the table with the family’, just don’t force them to eat.

When children are allowed to make their eating decisions and adults focus on their decisions (and not the child’s) then adults are providing structure, support and opportunities for healthy eating.  Children are allowed to choose what and how much to eat from the foods the adult has provided.

Try these strategies to make mealtimes more fun and less struggle.



Lori Korthals, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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