The #1 Foundational Step for Preventing Picky Eaters

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By: Kristen Yarker

Articles with tips for preventing and stopping picky eating are everywhere. Heck, I’ve even contributed a few. While most of the tips that people share can work, my experience has been that without having the right foundation in place they won’t work. They may even (unintentionally) make the situation worse.

So, what’s this foundational step?

Be Good Company

Make mealtimes pleasant. I also called this “be good company”.

What this involves is choosing to talk about any (pleasant) topic except what food is and isn’t being eaten. Yes, this means avoiding the topic that so easy to let come out of your mouth “eat two more bites of your peas”.  While of course you want your child to eat what you’ve made for them, saying it only backfires.

Pressure = Backfire

It backfires for two reasons, based on your child’s temperament and developmental stage:

  • For sensitive souls, they’ll see this encouragement for what it really is – pressure. And they back away from things that they’re pressured to do.
  • Not even the best lawyers around love a negotiation like a toddler or preschooler! Especially when it’s a topic that obviously pushes your buttons so clearly – food!

As the saying goes, your actions speak louder than words. You made the meal and put the food in front of your child. It’s obvious (even to little ones) that you want them to eat it. Nothing needs to be said.

Take the High Road

As the adult you need to choose to take the high road. You need to choose to not engage in the battle. Instead, talk about your day, share family stories, exercise your imagination, etc. Of course, you’ll still be paying attention to what your child does and doesn’t eat. Just do your best to not let it become the topic of conversation.

Don’t Try So Hard

In this way, you have the power to take back control of mealtimes and create the quality family time that you desire. What you don’t have the power to do is make your child eat. I know that it seems counter-intuitive, but the more you don’t try to get your kids to eat, the better they’ll eat. Once you’ve truly established a pressure-free, pleasant environment at the table, your child will eat better. And all the other tips, such as the one-bite rule, repetition, etc, can work.

What are your favourite conversation topics at meals? Please share!

Kristen is a child feeding expert often referred to as The Dietitian who Transforms Picky Eaters into Food-Confident Kids. She shows families evidence-based strategies to gets kids to try new foods on their own (without negotiations, deception, or being sneaky) to start them along a path to a life-long LOVE of healthy eating.

When she’s not gardening, shopping at a farmers’ markets, cooking or entertaining Kristen’s balancing all her food related interests by taking her surfboard down off the wall (where’s it’s been collecting dust for almost 10 years) and is getting back in the water. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

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