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Mealtime Mania: 10 Tips for Managing your Picky Eater

As a parent, nothing can be more frustrating than when your child won't eat the foods you prepare for them. According to child nutrition expert, Ellyn Satter (1), parents should follow the “Division of Responsibility in Feeding”:

  • The parent is responsible for what, when and where a child eats.

  • The child is responsible for how much and whether they eat.

Understanding and accepting this, along with the following tips, can take the “mania” out of mealtimes:

  1. Make sure your child is properly seated at the table for meals and snacks and eliminate any distractions such as TV, phones or electronic devices. This will help them focus on the food they are eating.

  2. Offer 3 healthy meals and 2-3 snacks at set times throughout the day. Do not allow your child to constantly “graze” or drink beverages other than water in between. If your child comes to the table hungry, they will be more likely to try new foods and/or eat their meal.

  3. Eat meals as a family as often as possible. You are your child's role model. If they see you eating and enjoying different foods, they will be more willing to try it themselves.

  4. Create a pleasant environment at meal times. Engage in happy conversation and avoid pressuring your child to eat with rewards or punishment. If meal time is stressful, your child will be less likely to eat or try new foods.

  5. Respect tiny tummies. Children go through growth spurts, so their appetite may vary. Offer child-sized portions and allow them to eat more when they are hungry and stop eating when they feel full. You do not need to spoon-feed your child if they are old enough to feed themselves.

  6. Avoid being a "short-order cook". Prepare one balanced meal for everyone that includes all of the food groups from Canada's Food Guide. You can try to include at least one item that your child likes so that they won't go hungry. Only feeding your child the foods they like or will eat, limits the chances of them increasing the variety of foods in their diet.

  7. Get your child involved with meal planning, shopping for food, and preparation. The more hands-on experience they have with food, the more likely they are to accept it.

  8. Make meal and snack times fun. Cut foods into fun shapes, give food/meal items fun names, and offer dips or sauces with finger foods. At snack time, put small amounts of new foods into sections of a muffin tin or ice cube tray for them to try. Experiment with different forms of the same food i.e. shredded carrots instead of carrot coins.

  9. Teach your child table manners. Explain that a simple “no, thank you” is appropriate if they don't want to try a food. When they do try a new food, allow them to politely spit it out into a napkin if they don' t like it. If trying new foods is a positive experience, they will be more likely to try it again in the future.

  10. Be patient. It may take up to 15-20 tries before a child might like a new food.

If you are looking for more support with managing your "picky eater", contact Cheryl Corry, Registered Dietitian to book an appointment or book online. You should check with with your insurance provider as dietitian services may be covered by your employee health benefits plan.

Eat Well, Live Well


1. Feeding with Love and Good Sense, Ellyn Satter, 2018

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