Meal Time Tug-of-War

By Jami Haberl on Monday, February 19, 2018

Tips for handling your “choosy eater” 

5-2-1-0 Healthy Choices CountWhat do you do if your child refuses a whole meal because something they don’t like touched their plate? Or what if they refuse to eat anything other than fruit and two days ago would only eat PB&J?

Behaviors like this are common in children. One day they gobble up everything you serve them and the next won’t like any of it. Want to make meal time more pleasant? Try these tips to handle your “choosy” eater:

1. Treat food jags casually. A food jag is when a child eats only a certain food for a period of time. They usually do not last very long.

2. Look at what a child eats over several days, instead of over one day or per meal. Most kids are eating more of a variety than you think.

3. Trust your child’s appetite. Forcing a child to eat more than they want can cause conflict and lead to overeating.

4. Set reasonable time limits for the start and end of a meal and then quietly remove the plate.

5. Stay positive and avoid criticizing or calling any child a “picky eater.” Children believe what we say!

6. Serve food plain and respect the “no foods touching” rule if that’s important to your child. This will pass in time.

7. Avoid being a short-order cook by making and offering the same food for the whole family. Aim for at least one food everyone will eat.

8. Substitute a similar food if a child does not like a certain food. For example, instead of squash, offer sweet potatoes.

9. Provide just two or three choices, not a huge array of food. Then let your child decide. Keep in mind your child may choose nothing and that is okay!

10. Focus on your child’s positive eating behavior, not on the food.

What seems “choosy” or “picky” may just be your child’s first steps in learning to make decisions for themselves. For more information on how to make healthy choices each and every day, visit