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The #1 Way to Stop Picky Eating: Don’t Ask!

Stop picky eating with one easy change.

This post has been updated!

How to Stop Picky Eating

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

What would you like for breakfast?

What do you want to eat?

By asking your child this question you have relinquished control. You’ve likely given up any control you might have had over the meal options or the health quality of the meal disappears.

Rather than ask, you want to announce, “Breakfast is ready!”

Should You Give Picky Eaters a Choice?

This is a good question. I like to give kids a choice. Generally, a choice between two things. Peanut butter or cheese, for example.

These types of choices are simple and strategic. You decide what the choices are, then offer them up to your child, letting him make the final decision.

Not giving choices these days seems cruel. 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 may feel frustration with their response (i.e. the same old thing he ate for the past few days).

The routine of asking open-ended questions may actually work against the opportunity to try new foods.

Even though many kids are willing to try new foods when given the chance.

Children can learn to eat well --trust them!

Ways to Break a Picky Eating Habit

As I hinted, many picky eaters don’t even know the many food options out there. They don’t know what they’re missing and therefor have a hard time asking for anything outside of what they already know and love.

Picky eaters ask for what they know and like to eat. So, don't ask them! Offer simple and limited choices. #endpickyeating #stoppickyeaters #breakthehabit Click To Tweet

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, lunch and snacks.

Start to work toward dinners that are family style, where main items are placed in the center of the table and children can pick and choose based on what you’ve selected for the menu.

Your child should eat something from the table (i.e. there are no special requests for dinner each night).

An easy 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 your child 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!

Need More Help with Your Picky Eater?

I have a list of awesome resources for picky eating, and my workbook, Try New Food: How to Help Picky Eaters Taste, Eat & Like New Foods is a great tool to help you work through this tricky stage of childhood.

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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.