“Picky Eating” and Control

Have you ever noticed how hard it is to get your child in a car seat when they don’t want to be in the car? It’s nearly impossible. The same can be said for getting your child to eat something they don’t want. They shut their mouths and there is very little you can – or should – do. For many, picky eating is about control.* 

Oftentimes, with the best of intentions, we try to exert control at mealtime. “No, you can’t eat the cookie until you eat your meal.” Or, “You need to eat another three bites before you get up from the table.” While our heart is in the right place, this is not the best way to encourage healthy eating habits. Treating dessert like a reward for eating “healthy food” teaches our children that healthy food should only be eaten when dessert is offered (it must really taste that bad that we give out cookies each time our kids eat broccoli!). Instead of exerting control over your children, try giving them control. Serve a small dessert at the same time as the meal and let them decide if and in what order to eat what is served. If the dessert is small, and likely won’t fill them up, then don’t worry if they start with that first. They may then move on to the rest of the meal, without fixating on and obsessing about dessert. For some, this change can make a huge difference at the dinner table but it may take some time for everyone to get used to the new dynamic. Give it a try for a month and see how it works for you!

First Bites is a non-profit organization that runs programs in preschools and early childcare centers to get kids excited about eating fruits and vegetables. To learn more about the program and for more ideas on what and how to feed children, visit firstbites.org, Facebook.com/YourFirstBites or follow us on Twitter @FirstBites.

*For some children, picking eating may be a sensory issue, in which case you should see an expert.