6 Surefire Ways to Turn Your Picky Eater Into a Total Nightmare

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Punish & Reward Your Child for Eating

If you want to make a picky eater worse, by all means punish your child when he refuses to eat and reward him when he does. This is a one-way ticket to mealtime stress for everyone. Food should never be used for reward or punishment. Many studies show that kids who connect eating with punishment or rewards are at risk for stress, inability to self-regulate, food insecurities and possibly more harmful habits like sneaking food, under-eating or overeating. If my son doesn’t eat, fine, but I’m not going to punish him for it. Food isn’t a discipline issue. Making food an excuse for discipline will only encourage your child to see food as the enemy. On the flip side, when my son does eat or choose a healthy food, I don’t heap on the rewards either. I never tell him, “What a good boy – you ate!” or give him treats. My son is not a pet dog and you should never reward healthy eating with treat food. Everyone at my house gets dessert if they want it, regardless of if they ate dinner, which works fine since we mostly serve healthy desserts like fruit and veggie popsicles. Eating should be considered a normal everyday activity, not some big huge accomplishment that needs to be rewarded. Do not make food a bigger deal than it is.

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Serve Junk Food so Your Kid Won’t Starve

Of all the tactics I’ve seen parents of picky eaters try, this one makes me the most crazed. A vast majority of picky eaters and overweight kids I’ve met have parents who give up very early on, and instead of trying helpful tactics, gave their kids junk food and fast food because, “Otherwise they’d starve.” No they won’t. I 100% promise you, there is not one child on the planet who will literally starve to death if you don’t serve fast food or junk. I get it, because when you’re dealing with a picky eater, it really feels like your child could starve to death at any moment. When that happens, it’s easy to think, maybe it’s okay to give in and buy that Happy Meal, processed nuggets or white bread. What happens next, no surprise, is your kid knows he can score a Happy Meal if he doesn’t eat because his parents are so terrified he’ll starve. I’ve met many teens who flat out refuse to eat anything but junk. If you talk to their parents, you’ll learn that it all goes back to when these kids were toddlers and refused healthy food choices so their parents bought them fast food or chips. My kid is one of the pickiest eaters I’ve met; even so, I never just gave up and bought him junk food. When my son gets to the starvation point, you know what he does? He eats what’s available at the house, which includes a large selection of healthy foods. I’ve seen him eat some really odd meals, like a whole red bell pepper and a handful of whole grain crackers, but the point is he eats. No fast food required. Your kids will eat too, because even the most picky kids on the planet will eat healthy food before starving to death.

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Be a Sneaky Chef

There are HUGE debates about whether or not you should hide healthy foods in other foods to get a picky child (or any child) to eat. Some say hiding healthy food in “less healthy” food is no big deal. Other researchers, and myself, feel that hiding food only reinforces picky eating and encourages extremely poor food choices later in life. Consider this – your child won’t eat veggies, so you puree them and add them to brownies or a smoothie, thus ensuring he might eat them. Say it works. Now your kid loves those brownies and smoothies, and may be getting some extra nutrition to boot, but you haven’t really done anything to help your child like whole veggies have you? As an adult, maybe your child will only reach for brownies or sweet sugary smoothies, only they won’t be made with veggies. Adding veggies and fruit to food is smart. In fact, I add veggies to sauces and ice pops and use applesauce in place of oil in cakes, but my son knows it. If he says, “What’s in these ice pops?” I tell him straight up there’s spinach in them. There’s no way your child will ever know if he likes carrots, beets, peppers or peas if you hide them from him. Make food healthier, but be honest with your child about it and serve whole foods once in a while too so your child knows how different foods taste.

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One Response to “6 Surefire Ways to Turn Your Picky Eater Into a Total Nightmare”

  1. Jo Cormack says:

    There is so much great advice here, but I would question the wisdom of the snack drawer. I advise taking a laid back attitude to your child’s choice to leave a meal but then, rather than giving them the option to compensate with snacks (which provides a motivation to leave meals) I advocate leaving them to go hungry until the next scheduled meal.

    Hunger, in the context of a child being offered healthy, appropriate and regular meals, is no bad thing. A child should sit down to meals hungry and leave the table feeling full. This aids self-regulation, as you allude to in your post.

    Perhaps a child does not need as much food as you think she does, in which case leaving the meal isn’t an issue. Perhaps she is choosing to leave it in order to exert a little control over you, in which case if she learns that hunger is a consequence of that choice, she’ll be more likely to make a different choice next time.

    solving picky eating

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