Nutrition, Parenting, Sunday With Sarah, Toddlers

How to Handle Picky Eaters


This week on Sunday With Sarah, I answer a viewer’s question, and share some ideas on how to encourage healthy eating and to discourage picky eating by children and toddlers.

In addition to the ideas discussed in the video, here are some other ideas:

Do not bribe children to eat!

Why? It doesn’t work in the long run. Children will do what you ask only to get the reward. When the reward is no longer offered, they lose their motivation. We want healthy eating to become a habit.

Here’s an article from the New York Times on why bribery isn’t an effective way of modifying a child’s behavior.

Never offer dessert as a reward.

This gives children the message that sweets are more desirable than more nutritious foods, and that more savory foods are only to be endured in order to get the dessert.

Serve healthy desserts.

Try offering desserts such as yogurt, fruit, baked goods with whole grains, or applesauce, and limit desserts to only a couple of evenings a week.

If your child dislikes vegetables, try serving more fruit.

If your child turns up his or her nose at certain vegetables, try offering a wider variety of fruits instead. Colorful fruits offer most of the same vitamins and nutrition as vegetables.

Try saying “Are you still hungry?” rather than “Are you full?.”

If you are trying to encourage a picky eater to eat more, this can change a child’s mindset. If s/he is still hungry, offer more of the food choices s/he likes.

Have you found effective ways to encourage a picky eater to eat more? Please share your successes and challenges here!

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  • Reply Maggie March 24, 2013 at 11:32 am

    I very much agree with the German teacher that you were talking about,….maybe because I grew up the same way, but we do not cook special meals for anybody in our family. Our kids eat what we are eating, which includes a variety of meals as we lived in many countries.

    We try to include something that both our children like to eat at mealtimes but everybody has to at least try all the food on their plates. If they do not eat all of their dinner they will be hungry for breakfast and eat more than. I found this to be a very successful way to avoid picky eating, even with my younger more picky eater, as she ends up eating most of the foods at some point or another.

  • Reply Sarah Baldwin March 24, 2013 at 11:49 am

    Very good point, Maggie, and one that I failed to mention. Yes, picky eaters will be hungry at the next mealtime, and when they get hungry enough, will likely eat more at the next meal.

    In my opinion, it’s okay to let children experience hunger, and important not to prepare special meals for different family members (unless, of course, they have special dietary restrictions like food allergies or a condition like Celiac disease).

  • Reply Maggie March 24, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    Agreed! I did not take into consideration any allergies or dietary restrictions in my reply. This would definitely change meal preparations.

  • Reply Victoria March 24, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    Hi Sarah,
    Thank you for addressing this issue. We are having some mealtime challenges with our five year old. I generally prepare and present meals. However, lately, he has decided that he wants something else and gets very angry and proceeds to tip his entire plate of food onto the floor (even though last week it was his favorite), or throw it across the room. My two questions are how do I respond to avoid the power struggle and what do I do when it happens? We do have a weekly meal schedule currently, and the problem occurs when papa comes home for lunch or shortly after he has arrived home for dinner.

  • Reply Wendy March 25, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Hi Sarah,
    Great topic to address. We have raised/are raising 6 children ages 26-6 years old and we agree whole heartedly with your teaching. It is your gentle and nurturing way to encourage the right behavior I appreciate so.

    Any ideas for the children that keep eating longer then they should at the evening meal? We have started to play a card game as soon as we are done so we are still at the table together for a nice long time but not continuing to eat.

    Seek peace,

  • Reply Laura March 26, 2013 at 9:17 am

    I enjoyed this post very much. My oldest daughter is in a Waldorf kindergarten and they do the fairy/bear scoops too. We have incorporated this at home and it works beautifully when introducing new foods. We’ve also tried incorporating the rhythm to mealtimes too with soup night, pasta night… That really helps.
    I’m sad to read Victoria’s post above! How challenging! I’m curious what you would do, Sarah. I’m thinking a parent would need to remain unaffected and simply remove the plate before it gets thrown, saying something like “we don’t throw our plates at meal time” and then the child is expected to sit with the rest of the family through the meal and participate in the conversation, without any further talk about whether or not he has a plate. If he continues to be disruptive then maybe he is asked to sit in a chair away from the table until the meal is over. A five year old can certainly be expected to wait (I have two of them) and suffer with a bit of hunger if they choose not to eat. If this is something that only occurs when daddy is present, perhaps the child simply wants his attention, and then could gently be guided toward a more acceptable way of getting it. I feel it’s all about boundaries and what is and isn’t acceptable. Five year olds do a lot of boundary pushing! A thought for a future post :)

  • Reply Marias March 26, 2013 at 10:37 pm

    In our house we make customizable meals so that each person in our household can dish it up the way they like it. For example taco salad meal has black beans, tempeh cooked up with a taco seasoning, a Mexican millet dish, plain brown rice, sauted mushrooms and onions, chopped lettuce, chopped tomatoes, salsa, grated cheese, sour cream, pickled jalapeños, black olives, tortilla chips. Each of us creates our own signature bowl! Even our pickiest member consistently includes beans, lettuce and rice in his bowl and that qualifies as a healthy choice in our eyes. Other dishes that are similar are build your own baked potatoes, chili night, stir fried veggies over rice night.

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