Expert Tips on Feeding Picky Eaters

Expert Tips on Feeding Picky Eaters
Getty Images

Expert Tips on Feeding Picky Eaters

Feeding young children is no small feat, especially if they go through a phase where they’ll eat nothing but macaroni and cheese. Children can be notoriously picky, and trying to introduce toddlers to new foods can feel like a Herculean task. It may feel like power struggles over food are inevitable. 

But handling food with young children doesn’t have to be a battle. We sat down with Heidi Schauster, nutrition therapist, to get some expert tips for parents on how to feed picky eaters. 

Psst… Pokémon Will Light Up the Empire State Building on Feb. 27!

What might cause a child to be a picky eater? 

It’s not uncommon for young children to go through phases where they’re extra sensitive or selective when it comes to what food they choose to eat, especially when introducing new things. 

“Often, the child is just finding a texture or a taste foreign and kind of unpleasant,” Schauster says. “And they’re needing more exposure and time to accept it.” 

Other times, kids might get caught in what Schauster calls “food jags,” where they’ll typically eat the same foods prepared the same way for every meal. For example, a child might go through a phase where they only eat white foods or eat macaroni and cheese for every meal. 

There can be many root causes for a food jag. In many cases, kids might use food refusal as a way to exert their newfound independence, especially if parents are insistent.

“If they have a sense that their parent really wants them or eat something or really doesn’t want them to eat something,” Schauster says. “They may play with that, if they’re tuned into that.”

That’s why Schauster says the key is to be as neutral as possible about food until your child grows out of it. 

“The key is to not put too much emotion into a food jag or food refusal, so that it doesn’t take on a life of its town because of a power struggle,” Schauster says. 

How can parents go about feeding a picky eater? 

Feeding a picky eater can be difficult for parents to navigate, especially when going through a food jag. While it can be stressful, Schauster says the key to feeding a picky eater is to relax. 

“Doing a dance or using coercive techniques around food or having a significant response around food refusal could encourage even more reluctant eating,” Schauster says. 

But taking a neutral approach to food doesn’t mean putting a stop to introducing new food to kids. Studies have shown that toddlers may actually need to try a food 12 to 30 times before they accept it into their palette. 

“Parents shouldn’t push, but they also shouldn’t give up on new or initially rejected foods,” Schauster says. “Continue to offer the food here and there.” 

And even though there’s pressure as a caretaker to find a dinner that fits everyone’s tastes, don’t become a short order cook that makes different meals for everyone. 

“It’s really important for kids to grow up to be flexible around food,” Schauster says. 

Schauster says having a meal schedule, where everyone in the family has a day where they get to pick what’s for dinner, can be “a game changer” for families with picky eaters. 

“Kids tend not to refuse the meals that they don’t like as much because they know that their meal is coming up soon,” Schauster says. “And that way, kids are getting more involved in food planning, too.” 

How can parents encourage their kids to try new foods without making food an issue? 

Parents can encourage their kids to try new foods by modeling the behavior themselves. 

“Even though their kids might not want to be doing what their parents are doing at times, they are watching,” Schauster says. “And so if parents are modeling variety, that’s super helpful.” 

Serving a variety of foods at home is helpful, even if the kids aren’t ready to eat them yet. They’ll be getting exposed to things like new smells and new ways for food to look. 

In general, the trick is “being persistent about bringing new foods out but being nonchalant about whether or not they eat,” Schauster says. 

Schauster also cites dietician Ellyn Satter’s idea of division of responsibility, wherein parents are responsible for making varied, healthy foods available and kids are responsible for eating it. 

Keeping these responsibilities separate can help avoid power struggles around food. 

“We have to be careful as parents that we’re not going over into their lane and insisting that they eat something or not eat something,” Schauster says. “We just make it available.” 

Relevant Directory Listings

See More

Challenge Camp

<p>Challenge Camp is an ACA accredited day camp focused on STEM and Arts enrichment for creative children ages 4-15 at a new location, Iona University. The Challenge Camp advantage is that parents and campers customize a program based on the child’s interests, and students follow their courses for an entire session.</p> <p>Challenge offers over 100 STEM and Arts project based electives to engage and inspire campers. Courses range from 3D Printing, App Development, Art, Chess, Coding, Cooking, Drones, Dungeons & Dragons, Escape Room, E-Sports, Filmmaking, Game Design, Lego, Magic, Makerspace, Minecraft, Photography, Podcasting, Robotics, Rocketry, Theater, VR and more! The Discover, Imagine & Create program is for students entering Kindergarten in fall. Active sports options including Basketball, Dance, Fencing, Ninja Warrior, Pickleball, Soccer, Ultimate Frisbee and an on-site Swim Program allow campers to challenge their minds and bodies. A Hot lunch and snack are included. Transportation and early drop-off/extended day options are available.</p> <p>The program is unique as there are multiple disciplinary options your child can experience throughout the day from STEM, Art, Theater, Music, Science, Technology, Sports and Swimming. To learn more about this innovative enrichment program visit: <a href="http://www.challengecamps.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=http://www.challengecamps.com&source=gmail&ust=1704993244563000&usg=AOvVaw3LRLLIWiKoUBlHE35POFyK">http://www.<wbr />challengecamps.com</a></p>

Trinity School

<p dir="ltr">Come join us for another summer of fun, exploration and discovery. Our campers get to engage with each other in the following activities: Swimming, Golf, Chess, Lego Robotics, Art, Dance, Multisports and Storytelling (subject to change)…and of course, ice cream or ices every day! We will supply our campers with a daily snack but you will need to provide your own lunch. Come join us for a fantastic summer!!!</p> <p dir="ltr">Camp runs from 8:30am - 3pm.</p> <p dir="ltr">Session #1: Tuesday, June 20th - Friday, June 23rd (closed Monday 6/19th)</p> <p dir="ltr">Session #2: Monday, June 26th - Friday, June 30th </p> <p dir="ltr">Session #3: Tuesday, July 3rd - Friday, July 7th (closed Tuesday, July 4th)</p> <p dir="ltr">Session #4: Monday, July 10th - Friday, July 14th </p> <p dir="ltr"> Session #5: Monday, July 17th – Friday, July 21st </p> <p dir="ltr">       For more information, please contact:</p> <p dir="ltr">        Seth Goldberg,</p> <p dir="ltr">        Director of Afterschool Programs & Summer Coordinator </p> <p dir="ltr">        Ph: (212) 932-6849</p> <p dir="ltr">        E: [email protected]</p> <p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.44; margin-left: 36pt; background-color: #ffffff; margin-top: 2pt; margin-bottom: 0pt;"> </p> <p><span id="docs-internal-guid-849a3a81-7fff-34df-9c6e-6714b519a740"></span></p> <p dir="ltr" style="line-height: 1.44; margin-left: 36pt; background-color: #ffffff; margin-top: 0pt; margin-bottom: 0pt; padding: 2pt 0pt 0pt 0pt;"> </p>

Rosetta Institute of Biomedical Research

<h1><strong>Summer Science Camps for Tomorrow’s Medical Professionals</strong></h1> <p>We offer a variety of workshops on molecular medicine for high-achieving high school<br />and middle school students interested in pursuing careers in medicine or related<br />fields, such as biomedical research, drug development, pharmacy, bioengineering, or nursing.  Workshops are taught by PhD-level instructors with years of research and teaching experience. Camps are offered in summer and winter and there are online and in-person options available.  </p> <p>Through engaging lectures and hands-on laboratory classes, students learn normal molecular and cellular biology, and then learn how these normal processes are disrupted or distorted during the development of disease. There is a heavy emphasis on experimental design, modern drug development, and the emergence of the era of personalized medicine. To conclude the workshop, students use what they have learned to create an original research project. More broadly, workshop attendees strengthen their academic skills, build their college portfolio, and explore potential career options while making friends from around the world and experiencing college dorm life in a safe environment.</p> <p>Our university-based workshops are held at Columbia University, Imperial College London, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego, and both residential and commuter options are available.   University-based workshops include Molecular Neuroscience, Molecular Biology of Cancer, Astrobiology, AI-Enhanced Bioinformatics, Molecular Biology of Aging, Neurological Bioinformatics, Molecular Immunology, Bioinformatics of Aging, and Bioinformatics of Cancer.  Biomedical Research – a workshop focused on learning modern molecular biology laboratory techniques - is taught at our lab in the Bay Area, CA.</p> <p>Our online workshops include Introduction to Cellular and Molecular Medicine, Medicinal Chemistry and Medical Bioinformatics.  Intro to Cellular and Molecular Medicine is our entry-level workshop that is only two hours/day.  Students in the Medicinal Chemistry and Medical Bioinformatics workshops learn how to use online tools to analyze biochemical data.</p>