February 8th, 2018


Picky Eating: Get Your Picky Eater to Eat… Eventually

By Jennifer Yoon, RDN/LDN, Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair


In the world of child nutrition, the million dollar question is, “So, how can I get my child to eat?” If you have been reading the posts in my picky eating series, you can guess the short answer is, “You can’t!” But there are many things you can do to foster a positive feeding environment that will help your little eater to come out of his picky shell when he is ready.

First and foremost, keep a positive atmosphere at mealtimes. Mom, dad, and siblings should sit, enjoy their meal, and discuss the events of the day. No negative energy or talk should take place regarding what, how much or whether the picky eater is eating.

Focus on behaviors you can control. You can expect your child to sit at the table and behave appropriately for a reasonable amount of time. If getting your picky eater to the table and keeping them there is an issue, start with 10 minutes and work up a little at a time until the child sits for the entire meal with the family. Limit food accessibility to planned meals and snacks.

Take the pressure off eating. Kids who are picky eaters often express stress and nervousness about meal times and trying new foods. The discussion, build up, stress, and worry about trying a food and the resulting negativity, frustration, and disappointment for not trying the new food creates a fight or flight reaction in the picky eater.

Do not provide alternative meals for the picky eater. Be sure there is one liked item. Put the other foods the family is having on the plate. For some picky eaters, getting used to having these items on the plate will take time. Repeated exposure is key!

Once the food is on the plate, your job is done. Don’t watch them, remind them to eat, nag, or cajole. Do not bribe them! The kid translation is, “If they have to bribe me, it must be terrible!” You may encourage them to taste it — once! And let them know they can spit it out. Children are more likely to taste if they know they can spit it out.

Be patient! This will take time, especially if eating has been a long term challenge in your household. You can’t make them eat, but you can create a safe atmosphere free of negativity that will, at minimum, result in a more pleasant mealtime for the whole family.


You can read all 5 parts of Jennifer Yoon’s ongoing series on Picky Eating here.


*** Jennifer Yoon sees patients at the Pediatric Alliance — St. Clair office. For an appointment, please call (412) 221-2121. Read more from Jennifer on The PediaBlog here.



5 Responses to Picky Eating (5)

  1. I have a question about providing one food they like. Should they be given as much of that as they want? My son (age 7, and increasing in pickiness recently) will eat plain rice, pasta or bread at dinner but won’t try the other food on the table. Should I let him fill up on those things or just give him one serving but not allow him to have more? Thanks

    • Jennifer Yoon responds: “You should provide a reasonable portion of the accepted food. Normally for a 7 year old, 2 portions of grain per meal. Each portion of grain is equal to ½ cup rice, pasta, or cereal, 1 slice of bread. I wouldn’t allow additional portions. Print a picture of MyPlate and ask him to suggest other foods he’d like to try and include them in the family meal. When I see kids for picky eating, I explain what a balanced plate looks like and why it’s important. Sometimes hearing this from an objective third party can help motivate them to expand their choices. And my best advice — Keep it positive!”
      MyPlate: https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/tn/dmp_poster.pdf

  2. Wonderful article! My husband and I have a very picky 3 year old and have been trying to keep things positive and to avoid separate meals. We give him one thing he likes and then put the rest of what the family is having on his plate. He has started to try a few new things! 😊 thank you for all the advice!!

  3. ok so here’s my question on this: Assuming I give my child one thing I know he likes and then 2 other healthy options on his plate, what happens next? Is there a hope that he will just eat the other stuff on his own? I’ve been putting broccoli (with cheese) on my kids plates for years. I ask them politely to eat it and they always say no. Do I give up on the broccoli after all this time?

    • Jennifer Yoon responds: “Yes, I would try some other things. Show them the food groups and help them figure out what’s missing. Go on a mission at the grocery to explore what they may want to try. Experiment with different cooking methods or try a variety of raw veggies. Stay positive even if they say they’ll try it and don’t. Go ahead and eat it and enjoy it yourself.”

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    Ned Ketyer, M.D.

    Ned Ketyer, M.D.

    Dr. Ketyer has special interests in developmental pediatrics and preventative medicine, specifically how nutrition and the environment affect health. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Vermont and his medical degree from Northwestern University Medical School. He completed his residency at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

    As one of the founding physicians of Pediatric Alliance, PC, Dr. Ketyer served as its president from 1997-2004. He has been practicing general pediatrics at Pediatric Alliance since 1990. Dr. Ketyer and his wife have three boys and live in Pittsburgh's South Hills. 

  • Note: The information included in these posts is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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