Easing Stress Around Eating With Picky Kids

Available with English captions and subtitles in Spanish.

Mealtime can be difficult with picky eaters. Whether it’s a toddler saying “No!” and throwing food on the floor, or a teenager whose plate is composed of entirely beige foods, picky or fussy eating can turn a family meal into the most stressful part of the day for everyone.

Being a finicky eater can be a normal part of growing up. But some parents may feel a power struggle when trying to get their kids to eat anything—and their kids will do whatever they can to refuse everything.

Audience Questions

Jennifer Anderson, MSPH, RDN, discusses ways to introduce new foods without being forceful, shares tips and tricks to reduce stress around mealtime for everyone, and answers audience questions about how kids and adults alike can truly enjoy a more colorful, nutritious meal—no tantrums necessary.

  • What exactly is mealtime stress?
  • What does this kind of stress look like in kids of different ages?
  • How can my child’s stress at mealtime affect my own thoughts and emotions?
  • What does picky eating look like in kids of different ages? Are there stages where picky eating is normal versus a behavior that my kid should outgrow?
  • Is neophobia something parents can address by leading by example? Is the “I’ll try it if you try it” methodology effective?
  • How did you realize your kids were picky eaters? Is there a difference between selective and picky?
  • Do you think there’s value to meal supplements, or should parents consider this to be a last resort?
  • Some companies get crafty with their nutrition labels. Any things parents need to watch out for when it comes to evaluating foods or drinks for kids?
  • How can we become less stressed with selective eaters if we’re on a restricted budget or food options? For example, food deserts, EBT, SNAP.
  • What are ways that a parent can tell the difference between being a selective eater and having a small or low appetite?
  • We are in a rut with offering the same foods over and over to our young children. How do you continue to offer a variety of new foods without spending a ton of time in the kitchen?
  • What can I do if my child keeps refusing to try new foods? How much, or how little, should I push back on their insistence to eat the same things all the time?
  • If I’m concerned around my kid’s eating habits and the recommendations from our pediatrician do not help, who should I turn to next?
  • You mentioned children having some sensory challenges or preferences. My fear is that my child would keep saying that they have these preferences to many foods so that they can try and eat only what they’d like. How do you suggest we make accommodations without going so far as to limit their healthy food choices?
  • I’m concerned around my kid’s snacking habits, particularly because they spend a lot of time playing games and aren’t nearly as active as I was when I was their age. Without telling them that I’m afraid they are going to become overweight, how do you help a child understand the importance of a balanced diet and the dangers of overeating?
  • How do you manage repeated food/snack requests between meals?
  • You mentioned the 30 days of “doing it right” with no observable improvement. How can I honor my exhaustion without undermining the process? What are some elements of the eating routine that deserve all the energy I can muster to follow through on?
  • I grew up in a home with generational food insecurity. My parents taught me that I was supposed to clean my plate every time there was a meal. Now that my child isn’t consistently clearing their plate at each meal, I’m having a tough time breaking out of the mindset that I was raised with. Do you have any advice about how to help break this thought pattern?
  • Are there ways that we can get picky kids involved and engaged in the process of making a meal? Does this kind of activity make it more likely for them to try foods outside of their comfort zone, or are there other activities that could make them more adventurous when it comes to food?
  • Any thoughts on saying kids can’t have a treat if they don’t eat (or at least try) X, Y, Z foods on their plate?
  • It’s so easy to give in to our children’s desires to eat their favorite foods just to avoid having a difficult evening in our house. Is this something you commonly encounter and if so, any suggestions?
  • If parents are eating poorly because we’re so busy with the kids and work, should we consider a diet or nutrition coach to help us get back on track? If so, what qualifications should we look for?

The information discussed is intended to be educational and should not be used as a substitute for guidance provided by your health care provider. Please consult with your treatment team before making any changes to your care plan.


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About Jennifer Anderson

Jennifer Anderson, MSPH, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and has a masters of science in public health from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. In 2019, she founded Kids Eat in Color, LLC, a social impact company dedicated to improving family and child nutrition and health.

Prior to starting Kids Eat in Color, she coordinated youth nutrition programs at a food bank, performed research in inner-city food deserts, and consulted for the USDA national office SNAP-Ed program.

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Originally aired on March 22, 2022