Picky Eating: How to Handle It

How many times have you heard a parent say their child will only eat chicken nuggets or mac and cheese? Maybe that parent has been you. Picky eating is a common challenge many parents face. It’s a phase where children might reject foods, demand the same meals daily, or eat only a few select items. This article will explore strategies for managing picky eating, emphasizing patience, persistence, and positivity.

Understanding Picky Eating

Picky eating typically begins in the toddler years and can be part of normal development. Children are learning to assert their independence, including making choices about what they eat. While it’s a normal stage for many, distinguishing between a picky eater and one with a feeding disorder is essential. If a child’s eating habits interfere with their health or well-being, seeking professional advice is necessary.

Common Challenges for Parents

Picky eating can disrupt meal routines and cause concern over whether a child is getting enough nutrients. Family meals might become battlegrounds, and parents may worry about growth and development delays.

Strategies to Overcome Picky Eating

Creating a Positive Mealtime Environment

  • Ensure meals occur at regular times in a stress-free setting.
  • Parents can model eating a variety of foods to encourage children to try new things.

Introducing New Foods Gradually

  • Introduce new foods alongside familiar favorites without pressuring the child to eat.
  • Repeated exposure can help. It might take several attempts before a child accepts a new food.

Involving Children in Food Preparation

  • Children are more likely to try new foods they’ve helped prepare.
  • Simple tasks like washing vegetables or mixing ingredients can be exciting for children.

Offering Choices Within Limits

  • Provide a couple of options so children can have some control over their meals.
  • Balance offering preferred foods with new or less favored ones to ensure nutritional variety.

Addressing Food Refusals Positively

  • Stay calm and avoid turning mealtime into a power struggle.
  • Consistency and patience are key. If a child refuses a food, offer it again on another day.

Nutritional Considerations

Ensuring your child receives adequate nutrition is vital. A balanced diet, sometimes supplemented with vitamins under a healthcare provider’s guidance, can support growth and development.

The Junk Food Trap

Toddlers require nutritious foods for growth, and it’s crucial to limit “junk foods” like candy and chips that offer little nutritional value. Early food preferences influence lifelong eating habits, so it’s a prime opportunity to foster a liking for healthy options.

You have control over what foods are available at home. If a toddler requests junk food, simply state it’s not available and offer a choice between two healthy snacks. This approach not only maintains a nutritious diet but also empowers your child by allowing them to make their own healthy food choices.

When to Seek Professional Help

If a child demonstrates several of the following behaviors, they may be exhibiting signs of Pediatric Feeding Disorder (PFD):

  • Selective Eating: Preferring foods of certain textures, colors, and tastes.
  • Avoidance and Negative Reactions: Experiences like gagging, vomiting, or distress signals such as hitting and crying when eating.
  • Reduced Hunger: Showing little interest in eating or a diminished appetite.
  • Weight Concerns: Not gaining weight appropriately or poor weight growth.
  • Challenges with Eating Skills: Delay in developing or problematic eating skills.
  • Difficulties During Meals: Disruptive behavior at mealtimes.
  • Inconsistent Eating: Eating habits change significantly across different settings.
  • Effect on Family Dynamics: Mealtime challenges negatively affect the family’s routine and functioning.

These indicators suggest that picky eating may go beyond typical childhood food preferences and require professional evaluation and intervention. Consult a pediatrician or a dietitian. They can provide tailored advice and support.


Dealing with a picky eater can be challenging, but it’s often a phase that children outgrow. With patience, creativity, and a positive approach, you can help your child develop healthy eating habits that last a lifetime. Remember, you’re not alone, and support is available for you and your child.

Embrace this journey with patience, and celebrate the small victories along the way. Your effort today lays the foundation for your child’s healthy relationship with food in the future.

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