7 Strategies to “Table” Picky Eating – Without Picking a Food Fight

Do any of these mealtime classics ring a bell? Vegetable shaming? Feeding Fido? Flat out refusing to eat?

I hear you. As a busy working mom with two sons who had “discriminating tastes” when they were younger, I know all about “picky” problems and mealtime meltdowns.

Ready for some drama-free dining?

Try these seven strategies the next time your child decides to stonewall you at meal time:

1. Let go of the labels. The truth is, when we label our kid’s eating habits – we compound problems. For example, if you have a picky eater and you’ve made that clear with phrases like, “Oh, she doesn’t eat that,” or “He’s so picky – he’ll ONLY eat mac and cheese.” Guess what? Your children will “not eat that” and “only eat mac and cheese.” With those labeling comments, you hand your child permission to continue that behavior. You also rob them of the chance to accept and enjoy new foods.

On the flip side – using positive labels around eating also creates more problems than it solves. Think about it – when you label one child the “good eater” – his sibling can only assume he’s the “bad eater” setting up an environment for sibling rivalry to thrive. Bottom line – avoid labels, positive or negative.

2. Take control. (Of the pantry, that is.) While getting kids to make healthy food choices can be tough, one thing that makes it easier is to ditch what you DON’T want them to eat. All the sugary snacks and starch-rich junk food in your home… remove them from your pantry and refrigerator! If all you have on hand is healthy alternatives – then healthy is what they’ll eat.

If kids consistently leave most of their dinner on the plate, that’s a clue to close the pantry (and fridge) at least an hour or two before mealtime.

3. Shut down the discussion. What kids eat or how much they eat should not be a debate every night. As the parent, your job is to plan and execute healthy meals for your kids. When you include at least one healthy item that you know your child will eat, you’ve done your job. After that? Leave it be. Your well-intended “just try a bite” and “how do you know you don’t like it if you won’t try it?” remarks open the door for an ongoing power struggle around food.

4. Don’t overplay your hand. If you are overly-invested in your kids making the “clean plate club,” you are giving them the power to create a problem. Serve the meal, then let the chips (figuratively speaking!) fall where they may. The more anxious you are about mealtime and who eats what, the more anxious (and potentially manipulative) your kids will be about it.

5. Don’t make food a reward. How many times have you heard, “If you eat your vegetables, you’ll get dessert?” Food, even the sweet treats, are something to be enjoyed as a family, not to be used a bargaining chip for good behavior or finishing your meal. When dessert is held up as the “good stuff to get to after you choke down your broccoli” – that’s what kids will crave, for sure!

6. Try, try again. Don’t write off a type of food because of one bad experience. Feel free to get science-y and let your kids know that taste buds regenerate every ten days to two weeks. Wow! That means just because you don’t like something today doesn’t mean it won’t end up on the favorites list later. Keep tasting and trying – they might find they like it!

7. Make meals an “all in” experience. Meals are more fun and engaging when everyone is part of the process. From table setting to food prep to even choosing menus and picking out produce – when everyone is in, kids are less likely to pitch a fit about the finished product.

Bottom line? Have some fun in the kitchen. Take some of the drama out of mealtime and add a touch of food fun with your time together.

If power struggles at mealtime or bedtime or chore time continue to get you down, join us for a free parenting webinar: Get Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling . You’ll be glad you did! Find dates and times here.

About the Author

Amy McCready
Nationally recognized parenting expert Amy McCready is the Founder of Positive Parenting Solutions and the best selling author of The “Me, Me, Me” Epidemic - A Step-by-Step Guide to Raising Capable, Grateful Kids in an Over-Entitled World and If I Have to Tell You One More Time…The Revolutionary Program That Gets Your Kids to Listen Without Nagging, Reminding or Yelling. As a “recovering yeller” and a Certified Positive Discipline Instructor, Amy is a champion of positive parenting techniques for happier families and well-behaved kids. Amy is a TODAY Show contributor and has been featured on CBS This Morning, CNN, Fox & Friends, MSNBC, Rachael Ray, Steve Harvey & others. In her most important role, she is the proud mom of two amazing young men.