Avoiding Dinner Drama With Picky Eaters

It’s almost a guarantee that if you have kids you have (or will) go through a phase or two of dealing with picky eating. Some kids enter and exit this phase easily, while others seemingly never leave. So, what are you to do if young Bobby refuses everything except for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (with the crust cut off, of course)?

You certainly could prepare a PB&J for him every night, meticulously cutting off any semblance of a crust, but chances are he will continue to hold out for his sandwich and never even attempt different foods — especially if he knows that his PB&J is always an option. This might also become an issue if brother Timmy gets jealous that Bobby always gets a PB&J and decides that then he only wants chicken nuggets for dinner. Now you’re making your main meal, PB&J, AND chicken nuggets and before you know it you are a bona fide short order cook!

The other thing you can do is implement this one rule that will completely change your dinner time…

Only make one meal!

Sounds easy, right? This way Bobby has no choice but to eat what is served, or refuse dinner altogether. Sure, he may choose not to eat for a night or two, but I guarantee that if you stick to your guns he will become motivated to try what everyone else is having. An added bonus is that this also teaches a big life lesson: you don’t always get your favorites and that’s just the way life goes.

Now of course, there are a couple of caveats that are necessary to make this successful:

1. You should make meals every once in a while that are Bobby’s favorite. (PB&J for all!)

2. Try as much as possible to ensure that there is something that young picky Bobby will eat. For instance, if you are making tacos for dinner and you know that Bobby does not like tacos, serve some fruit as well. Also, try to keep food items separate (set out tortillas, meat, a bowl of shredded cheese, lettuce, salsa, and fruit) so your picky eater can choose what they want out of what you are serving. Bobby might choose to eat only some fruit and shredded cheese and that’s it.

3. Be OK with Bobby only eating fruit and shredded cheese. To aid in this, adopt the phrase, “You don’t have to eat it.” So when he starts to complain and say “I don’t like tacos!” You simply say, “You don’t have to eat it.” Let him know that here is other food on the table that you can choose from and leave it at that.

It’s OK if he’s not actually eating tacos. You may be surprised to find that over time he chooses a little more and a little more until one day he is actually eating a taco with all of the fixings. On the other hand, he might never like tacos and that’s OK too! At least you’ve stopped being a short order cook, Bobby has expanded his palate to more than just peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and dinner time is no longer an epic battle.

*Note: There is picky eating and then there is also something called AFRID (Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder). If your child is refusing to eat and losing weight please contact your pediatrician for further evaluation.

Have a picky eater? Try this veggie-packed solution!

McNamee, Kinsey 8196Kinsy McNamee, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian at ProMedica Wellness. Read more of her stories from her monthly Eating Right In Real Life series.