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The Number One Way to Stop Picky Eating: Don’t Ask!

Children can learn to eat well --trust them!
Children can learn to eat well –trust them!

Stop Picky Eating

One of the biggest mistakes parents make, especially with toddlers, is asking their child what they would like to eat for any given meal.

In a nano second, you have relinquished all of the control you might have had if you just said ” breakfast is ready!”

I know, not giving choices these days seems like a cruelty – we are all taught to make our kids feel empowered by offering choices. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in offering choices to an extent; however, if you ask an open-ended question to a child about what they would like to eat, you might find frustration with their response (i.e. the same old thing he ate for the past few days).

This routine of asking actually works against giving your child the opportunity to try new foods.

Most toddlers don’t even know what they want to eat, as they are just getting to know the physical signs of hunger. And many are surprisingly willing to try new foods when given the chance.

If you are accustomed to asking your child what they would like to eat for each meal, you might start by making small changes and offering just two choices at breakfast and lunch.

Dinner should be family style, and he should eat something from the table (i.e. there are no special requests for dinner each night).

Here’s an example:  “Timmy, we have waffles or cinnamon toast today for breakfast.”

Eventually, you may not even have to offer the two choices, and just simply present the food without even asking.

Once he understands that there are limits to his choices, he will settle into his meal time routine quite nicely.

Remember, kids feel much more secure (hence, fewer tantrums) when parents set boundaries for them. This is true with food too!

Kate Samela MS, RD, CSP has been a Registered Dietitian for 14 years and is board certified by the Commission on Dietetic Registration as a specialist in pediatric nutrition. She just published her first book, Give Peas a Chance: The Fool-Proof Guide to Feeding Your Picky Toddler (Sourcebooks 2013). 

Read more of Kate’s thoughts on feeding toddlers at and like Give Peas a Chance on Facebook at

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  1. Thank you for this Kate. I agree with you however, to best head off dealing with a truly picky/selective eater, always offer a “safe food” you know they will eat to INCREASE the new foods they will accept over time. So, instead of saying we have _______ and ________ for breakfast-serve the food you choose but also have something on the table that you know they will eat {it doesn’t have to be a main item-just something-can even just be toast}. Over time, the child learns that there will always be something on the table they will eat and they will begin to TRUST the parent to provide foods they can eat. It’s a sound way to avoid mealtime battles if done properly. Thank you for writing about picky eating. As a feeding therapist, I appreciate all of the information.