Picky eating is extremely common during childhood and a common source of parental frustration. While parents may react to picky eating in many different ways, I recommend adopting what I refer to as a “picky-free parenting” approach. With this approach, a parent sets the stage to make it easier for a child to make healthier, more adventurous food options, without the mealtime battles. The parents control what they can – and give the child room to make some choices, too. Undoing picky eating is a process, but parents who adopt a picky-free parenting approach can be sure that they are practicing the most effective, science-based methods to help their kids ultimately be healthy, more adventurous eaters. Click here to listen to the full webinar I hosted on this topic.
1- Be a good role model. Your example of healthy eating is extremely powerful. Let the kids see your openness to trying new flavors and tastes.
2- Parents decide what food is offered, when it is offered (meal and snack times) and where to eat. Kids decide what (of offered food) to eat.
3- See the value in one bite. Repeat exposure (10-15 times), and they will come around to new foods.
4- Clean plates are not required. Pay attention to hunger cues for fullness. You can use the hunger scale to help your kids make choices on hunger and fullness, and become a more mindful eater (Start eating around 3, stop by 6. Try to stay away from the red and orange zones). It takes 20 minutes to feel full, so slow down while eating.
5- No food rewards (sweets, dessert). This is only a short-term fix, and may set the stage for emotional eating.
6- Mealtime = Family time. Shop, cook and eat together, at least 3 times per week, with no screens at the table.
7- One family, one meal. Don’t prepare special meals for picky eaters (see #2).
8- Learn together. Plant a garden, or get kids to shop with you.
9- Have fun! Try not to take mealtime too seriously. Enjoy!
10- Be consistent, not rigid. Pick a couple of these 10 suggestions to work on first.
Natalie Digate Muth, MD, MPH, RDN, FAAP is a pediatrician at Children’s Physicians Medical Group – La Costa and the co-author of “The Picky Eater Project: 6 Weeks to Happier, Healthier Family Mealtimes” published by the American Academy of Pediatrics. She is accepting new patients.