Help! My Kid Won?t Eat 10 Do?s & Don?ts to Solve Mealtime Struggles

Guest blog by:?Katharine Jeffcoat – pediatric nutritionist

As our families march on towards the holidays, mealtime can become challenging for us all. For those of us with small children currently eating a limited diet, family meals can be especially stressful. I was talking to a local mama and pediatric nutritionist, Katharine Jeffcoat, recently about this conundrum and wouldn?t you know but she has already written a whole post of Do?s & Don?t?s for getting picky eaters on board. While some families still need expert help like Katharine?s?to on board, her guide to helping selective eaters to broaden their palate is very useful. Read on for her take!


At some point most parents will experience some type of picky eating behavior with their children (and if you don?t, consider yourself lucky!) ?If your child is a toddler, expect to hit a stage where something will be accepted one day and rejected the next.? It?s common for toddlers to start expressing control at this stage.? Older kids can go through a food jag where they over indulge in a food and later don?t want anything to do with it.

Picky eating can often be shown to be more complex than just a food jag and toddler stage.?Children with picky eating can have sensory or oral motor challenges that need to be addressed if they have strong reactions to tastes, smells and textures of food.? There is also growing evidence that picky eating has a genetic factor, so you can blame yourself if you were (and still are) a picky eater.

I have worked with families with children who have extreme picky eating behaviors, eating less than 20 items at the age of 7.? These are the families I would have loved to of started working with when their child first started showing signs of being picky at a younger age.

When dealing with all children who are selective eaters, how we respond to this behavior will certainly impact the feeding relationship and can either exacerbate their picky behavior, making it worse; or remedy it by allowing the child to feel safe while exploring foods.? I have compiled a list of what I hope will be helpful ?Do?s? and ?Don?t? to get through the picky eating stage with your child.


  • Offer a variety of healthy food options.?As a parent, your job to buy the groceries, cook and serve the food.? Kiddo gets to choose how much and whether they will eat.
  • Have a schedule.?It?s important for a child to come to a meal hungry.? Having a schedule with 2-3 snacks in the day that are spaced 2 hours before and after meals will help assure the child is hungry at mealtime.? ?If a child is allowed to graze all day, they won?t come to the meal hungry.? Eventually they will learn that if they don?t eat their meal, they won?t have a chance to eat again until snack time.
  • Be a role model.?Eat family meals together and sit down and eat with your child as much as possible.? Children learn by observing.?? They should be served similar food to what is on your plate.
  • Continue to offer rejected food.?Research shows that it truly takes 10-15 food exposures prior to a child accepting a new food. ?Parents often stop offering a food after it?s been rejected five times.? Food exposures include children helping to prepare the food, smelling the food, touching the food, having it on their plates or taking a bite and spitting it out.
  • Offer familiar accepted food with new or previously rejected food.? Always have something on the table (or your child?s plate) that you know they like. ?This helps the child develop trust in the feeding relationship with seeing familiar foods they will eat.


  • Bribe or reward with food.?This will not make a child like a food. ??If dessert is treated as a reward for cleaning the plate or eating vegetables a child will not learn to trust their own hunger at that meal and eat more then they need just to get dessert.
  • Push or force the child to try new foods or punish if they don?t.?This only causes anxiety at the dinner meal and more avoidance of new foods long term.? It?s the child?s choice to decide how much and whether they will eat.
  • Be a short order cook.?Children will learn quickly that if they don?t eat their meal they can request anything they want.
  • Be bland.?Children do like flavorful foods.? Use herbs and spices when you cook in order to make food appealing and tasty. ?It could be helpful to take a cooking class or get a new cookbook if you don?t know what and how to cook.
  • Offer the same thing every day.?Be sure to change it up. If the food was rejected at lunch, don?t pull out the same plate of food for snack 2 hours later. ?Add variety to your child?s meals.
Most of all remember my favorite 6 words at meal time.? When your child says ?Yuck!?? All you need to say is ?You don?t need to eat it??and enjoy your meal.