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Earth Eats: Real Food, Green Living

How To Feed A Picky Child

Is your child a picky eater? Believe it or not, providing healthy foods and trusting your child's instincts helps.

Picky Eater

Photo: Ryan Vettese

Avoid scolding or over-the-top cheering to show kids that eating healthy foods is normal and not-stressful.

In desperation to find a working strategy that will encourage her picky son to eat healthier, NPR reporter Sarah Varney turned to child behaviorist Ellyn Satter, nutritionist Andrea Garber, and psychologist Mary Sanders for help.

All of the experts agreed: bribing, coercing, and bending over backwards is not the best way to help children eat healthy foods.

Kids Want To Eat Healthfully

Although it may seem surprising, Varney’s report encourages providers to trust children to eat the right foods and to not make an anxious commotion about feeding. “Young children are very, very good at regulating their intake so they are getting the proper amount of calories and fat and carbohydrates and protein for growth — as long as they’re offered a healthy range of items,” says Andrea Garber.

In Garber’s research she found that children whose parents were more restrictive about what they ate were more likely to make unhealthy choices on their own, while children who were responsible for their own choices ate healthier foods.

What Is The Parents’ Role?

Satter has published several well-received books about feeding children based around the idea of Division of Responsibility in Feeding.

Parents’ Feeding Responsibilities:

  • Choose and prepare the food.
  • Provide regular meals and snacks.
  • Make eating times pleasant.
  • Show children what they have to learn about food and mealtime behavior.
  • Not let children graze for food or beverages between meal and snack times.
  • Let children grow up to get bodies that are right for them.

Fundamental to parents’ jobs is trusting children to decide how much and whether to eat. If parents do their jobs with feeding, children will do their jobs with eating:

  • Children will eat.
  • They will eat the amount they need.
  • They will learn to eat the food their parents eat.
  • They will grow predictably.
  • They will learn to behave well at the table.

Satter also has advise for picky eaters, children who don’t eat fruits and vegetables, families meals, and many other areas of feeding.

Less Pressure Encourages Healthy Eating

Threatening children with calls to Santa Claus, or acting like a cheerleader whenever they eat a piece of broccoli only encourages picky eating. So much commotion communicates to the child that there is something not to be trusted about healthy food.

Instead, providing healthy foods, letting the child see you enjoying the food, and removing pressure is the best way to let the child’s natural food regulating abilities kick into full swing.

Eating healthy should be positive and relaxing. Even if your child doesn’t spring for Indian-Inspired Vegetarian Chili, if they associate new things with calm, happy experiences, they may take it the second (or 20th) time around.

In the meantime, are you looking for some healthy snacks for your children? Try these!

Read More:

  • To Win Toddler Food Battles, Take A Softer Approach (Time)
  • How To Feed Children (Ellyn Satter)
Julie Rooney

Julie Rooney is a vegetarian, musician, and artist who primarily works in video and new media. Currently she is the director of Low Road Gallery, a non-profit contemporary art gallery located in Greencastle, Indiana.

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  • Kristine Serna

    Prepare something for your kids a variation of healthy kids snacks. Children are picky, we need to always find different ways on how to make them eat healthy foods.

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