Picky Eating

Most young children are selective or ‘picky’ about food. This is a normal part of childhood development. What parents may see as challenges at mealtimes are often normal and expected behaviors that are a part of learning about food and eating.

You can help your child through this stage and help them to learn skills around food and eating to help shape their eating relationship for a lifetime. As with developing any skill, this takes time, patience and being consistent.

Your child is learning about food and eating!

All foods are new to a child, and it is natural for them to be cautious at first. Children over time learn to eat what parents eat, but they need time and enough exposure for foods to feel familiar and ‘less strange’. As your child learns about food and eating you may notice that they:

  • accept some new foods the first time they are offered, but need more time with other foods
  • eat a food one day but refuse it the next time it is offered
  • eat a lot of food one day and only a little the next day
  • eat one or two foods at each meal

A child may need to be offered a food 20 times or more before they learn to eat it! Their appetites vary from meal to meal and their likes and dislikes change often.

The feeding relationship: parent’s role vs. the child’s role

In a healthy feeding relationship, you and your child each have a role. Like any other relationship, the feeding relationship is based on trust and respect. You do your role, and you trust your child to do theirs. Watch the video below for more information:

The reality is that your child will likely not eat everything that you prepare or that you think they should eat. Children eat best when parents do their job with feeding, and children do their job with eating.

Things you can do to help your child develop healthy eating habits:

  • Learn more about your ‘job’ and your child’s ‘job’ in feeding.
  • Eat together as a family whenever possible.
  • Establish a routine of sit-down meals and snacks at regular and reliable times.
  • Offer a variety of healthy foods at meals and snacks. Let your child decide what to eat from what is offered.
  • When offering a new food, start with a small amount and serve it along with a familiar food.
  • Be considerate without catering when meal planning. Include 1or two foods your child generally eats with other mealtime foods.
  • Keep mealtimes pleasant and free of pressure (i.e., force, bribes, rewards or games to get your child to eat). This can lead to them refusing food and eating less.
  • Be patient. Your child needs time to explore new foods. Let them see, smell and touch the food without feeling pressure to try it.
  • Enjoy eating with your child. Shift your focus away from what and how much your child eats. Mealtime is a time to connect, relax and role model.
  • Trust that your child will eat the amount of food that is right for them.

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Last updated: 2024-03-27