The Picky Eater Habit Parents Can Use to Their Advantage, According to Experts (2024)

Feeding your kid can be fun, frustrating and anxiety-inducing rolled into one—this, all parents know. After all, you’re responsible for providing nourishment and therefore influencing your kid’s healthy development. No big deal, right?

So when Otto won’t eat anything but peanut butter puffs for breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s completely natural that you spiral. He’s going to eat the same thing for the rest of his life and be stunted and it’s my fault, you think. But according to the experts, serving the same foods won’t make or break your kid’s development. In fact, it might help them. I spoke with a nutritionist to find out more.

Meet the Experts

First, Why Does Your Child Want the Same Food All the Time?

Per speech-language pathologist Stephanie Cohen, M.A., CCC-SLP, CLC, there’s a likely reason why your kid wants to eat the same food over and over again: “For many children, same food means safety,” she says in a TikTok. According to Cohen, when a meal is predictable, a child can come to the table feeling hungry and know there will be something with a familiar texture and flavor to satisfy their hunger.

That said, if you’re dealing with an extreme picky eater, “it’s important for parents to see their pediatrician to screen for anything that might be contributing to the extreme picky eating and to have the child’s growth assessed,” registered dietician Elizabeth Davenport, MPH, RD, LC, told me. “It’s also recommended that parents seek out the support of a registered dietitian, speech-language pathologist and/or occupational therapist who works from a responsive feeding lens.”

Why It’s OK to Serve Your Child the Same Food (At Least Sometimes)

As a parent who’s probably stressing over every untouched broccoli crown, rest assured that when you provide familiar foods to your child, you’re not necessarily holding them back. You’re actually showing them that they can trust you and that you understand them, as Cohen explains in her video.

“This isn’t saying we are not going to think about offering opportunities for our child to learn,” Cohen elaborates in her TikTok, “but you have to start with helping your child feel safe with you.”

Offer Chances to Try New Foods, But Don’t Force Them

So you’re not ruining your kid’s palate by serving them nuggets again…but obviously you still want them to eat a nutritious variety of foods. How, though?

While it’s tempting to force your kid to finish their entire plate instead of allowing them to pick out the “good” parts, resist that urge. “Forcing a child to eat foods teaches them that they aren’t in charge of their bodies or what they eat,” Davenport told me. What’s more is that, “research shows that pressing children to eat certain foods doesn’t lead to them eating more foods long-term.”

Remember, your kid wants to feel safe and comfortable at mealtime. “It’s recommended not to force a child to eat foods they don’t feel safe eating,” Davenport explained. “By making kids eat foods they don’t feel safe eating, we interfere with their autonomy and their natural intuitive eating skills, and we’re setting up food to become a battleground.”

Introduce New Foods in a Low-Stress Way

There’s a delicate balance between appeasing your kid and getting them to branch out, because while you want to provide a safe environment, you also don’t want this single-food-saga to become a long-forming habit. “If parents offer only the foods that they know their child will eat, their children will not accept new foods as they grow and develop,” Davenport agreed. The key, she explained, is to provide structure and support without pressure so your kid can develop eating skills as they grow.

For parents, this can look like creating a low-stress meal and snack environment, remaining neutral about how you talk about foods, allowing your child to serve and feed themself if they’re old enough, offering regular meals and snacks and being attuned and responsive to your child’s cues. “Assure your child there will be food they feel comfortable eating and that they don’t have to eat anything they don’t like,” she said.

To introduce new foods to kids in a low-pressure way, Davenport suggested the following ideas:

The Bottom Line

Tl;dr? If your kid only wants to eat one food, it’s probably because it makes them feel safe at mealtime (but check with your pediatrician, too). As long as you provide ample opportunities for them to try new foods in a low-pressure way, letting them eat their safe food won’t set them back (but it will help them trust you).

Child Therapists Are Begging You to Stop Telling Your Kids to Do This

The Picky Eater Habit Parents Can Use to Their Advantage, According to Experts (2024)


The Picky Eater Habit Parents Can Use to Their Advantage, According to Experts? ›

For parents, this can look like creating a low-stress meal and snack environment, remaining neutral about how you talk about foods, allowing your child to serve and feed themself if they're old enough, offering regular meals and snacks and being attuned and responsive to your child's cues.

What should parents do if they have a picky eater? ›

Sometimes preparing foods differently, presenting foods in interesting ways, or using cookie cutters to cut food into fun shapes can make foods more appealing to picky eaters. It's important not to let a child's pickiness become a source of mealtime tension.

What is the psychology behind picky eaters? ›

When children are picky eaters, sometimes it is a response to controlling or pushy parents, or to bribery. The battle over food can then lead to resistance and defiance from the child. Ultimately, it is the child's decision as to what to eat and whether or not to eat the foods you have provided.

How might a parent respond correctly to a picky eater? ›

Allow them to eat the amount of food they want, and trust that they know when they're full. Avoid overextending meal times. Healthy, happy eating environments encourage healthy relationships with food. Language also plays a key role in how your child responds to new foods.

What is one strategy a parent or caregiver could use to encourage children that are picky eaters to try more or new foods? ›

Food play activities can lead to increased acceptance of food. Allow your child to see, touch and smell a variety of foods. Help unpack vegetables/fruits and place them in a bowl or sort them by color, etc Bring your child grocery shopping and encourage them to feel the fresh produce (touch).

Is it the parents fault if a child is picky eater? ›

Parenting plays a role too.

Some of that could be a chicken-or-egg thing: when a child seems picky, parents might be more likely to want them to eat healthy or high-calorie foods — and really want them to finish them. However well-meaning this may be, it can make things worse.

What is an advice for an adult picky eater? ›

Don't overwhelm yourself with a plate full of new foods. Instead, serve familiar favorites along with one new food you're ready to try. Commit to just a few bites. Dietitian and feeding specialist Ellyn Satter calls this giving yourself "an out": If you don't like the new food, you'll still have something to eat.

Are picky eaters born or made? ›

It appears it be both. Some estimates claim 78% of picky eating is due to heritable or developmental characteristics – how the taste buds and smell centers of the brain perceive flavour and how a child's taste is designed to mature with time.

Is Picky eater autism? ›

Even though picky eating is a common problem, research suggests that it's usually a temporary and normal part of development. However, children with autism often have more chronic feeding problems that go beyond picky eating. This may mean the child won't eat an entire category of food such as proteins or vegetables.

Do picky eaters grow out of it? ›

"Picky eating is common during childhood and parents often hear that their children will eventually 'grow out of it. ' But that's not always the case," says senior author Megan Pesch, M.D., a developmental behavioral pediatrician at Michigan Medicine C.S. Mott Children's Hospital.

How do you break a picky eater child? ›

8 Strategies for Picky Eaters: End the Mealtime Battles for Good
  1. Let Go of the Labels. ...
  2. Take Control of the Pantry. ...
  3. Don't Go to War at the Dinner Table. ...
  4. Don't Make Food a Reward. ...
  5. Variety is the Spice of Life. ...
  6. Offer Some Choice. ...
  7. Try, Try Again. ...
  8. Make Meals an “All In” Experience.

Should you force a picky eater to eat? ›

Don't force food on kids

Forcing food distresses kids and parents alike, and builds up negative associations. As long as the pediatrician says your child is healthy and she is eating a variety of foods, don't pick a battle over every green vegetable.

How do you discipline a picky eater? ›

10 Tips to Deal with Picky Eaters
  1. A taste is just a taste! ...
  2. Repeat disliked foods. ...
  3. Involve your child in food preparation. ...
  4. Do not force-feed your child. ...
  5. Set a good example. ...
  6. Remove distractions at mealtime. ...
  7. Do not use food as a method of discipline or reward. ...
  8. Limit drinks before and during a meal.

What foods do picky eaters not like? ›

Common Foods Picky Eaters Don't Like
  • Odorous vegetables. ...
  • Seafood & Sushi. ...
  • Condiments. ...
  • Spicy Foods. ...
  • Sandwiches.
Nov 4, 2022

What fruits are good for picky eaters? ›

Warm fruits like apples, pears, and peaches for a softer texture. Try frozen or canned fruit—but make sure to find ones packed in 100% juice or water.

What are two strategies a parent caregiver could use to promote and infant's cognitive development? ›

Talk, Read and Sing Together Every Day!

A language-rich environment is important to children's early brain development, and can have strong effects on early language, vocabulary, reading, and math skills, as well as on children's social-emotional development.

How do you accommodate a picky eater? ›

  1. Offer a variety of healthy foods for meals and snacks. ...
  2. Be persistent, but not forceful, when offering a variety of food choices. ...
  3. Avoid labels and set realistic expectations for children's eating habits. ...
  4. Include your child in menu planning and engage them early to grow their interest.
Mar 20, 2024

How might parents deal with a child who is a finicky eater? ›

To deal with a picky eater, focus on helping them feel good about trying new things. Forcing kids to eat things they don't like isn't helpful. Instead, try to respect their preferences while gently encouraging variety.


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