Posted in Patient Information

Picky Eating

Adapted (partially verbatim) from Am Fam Physician. 2015 Aug 15;92(4):274-278.

Kids don’t need as much food as you think!

One way children start to show their independence is by choosing what they want to eat. You should make meal times as pleasant as possible. The amount of calories and nutrition a child needs is less than many parents realize. You can find out how much your child needs by going to choose my plate.

Parents often describe their toddlers and preschoolers as picky eaters. The reluctance to eat or try new foods (food neophobia) is a normal developmental stage that the child usually outgrows. However, there are picky or fussy eaters who restrict their intake to only a few food items, regardless of whether they are new or familiar.

Some ways to reduce picky eating include:

  • Avoid offering many sweetened foods or foods with high carbohydrate content (breads, sweetened cereal, rice).
  • Don’t let your child drink too much milk or juice. The calories in liquids can take away appetite. A child should have no more than 16 to 24 oz of milk and 4 to 6 oz of juice per day.
  • Follow the rule of 10s: children should try a food at least 10 times before deciding they don’t like it.
  • Offer foods that are similar to ones your child likes. (For example, if your child likes canned peas, offer cooked carrots instead of raw carrots. The softness of the food may make a difference.)
  • Use an older sibling as a role model to help children try things they think they don’t like.
  • Mix foods, even if the mixture doesn’t make sense to you. (For example, a child may eat “ants on a log” because it is a fun way to present celery, peanut butter, and raisins.)

Mealtime Roles for Parents and Children:

The main approaches to picky eating include social modeling of normal eating behaviors, repeated exposures to new foods, and positive mealtime experiences. There is a strong correlation between parent and child nutritional behaviors. Parental efforts to control the child’s intake of food using pressure to eat a certain food or quantity of food, restriction of certain foods, or promise of a reward have negative effects on food acceptance and are discouraged. In the Satters’ Division of Responsibility Model, the parents’ role is to provide mealtime structure, positive social modeling, and a variety of healthy foods, whereas the child decides how much and which foods to eat.

Satters’ Division of Responsibility Model

Parents:

  • Provide mealtime structure: time and place.
  • Create a positive environment: pleasant interaction.
  • Allow the child to feed himself or herself.
  • Provide a variety of healthy foods.

Children:

  • Eat if he or she wants to.
  • Choose what to eat out of the offered foods.
  • Stop eating when full.