Getting Your Picky Child To Eat What They Need To Or Should Be Eating

FussyEaterI recall early in my career, a mom came in with a toddler who was holding a coca-cola bottle and donut.  When I asked her why he was having that for breakfast (it was 9 am) her response was, quite mater of fact, “that’s all he will eat”.  Now most of you would agree that this is not acceptable.  Where we miss the point is that many parents are giving their children processed cereals (not much different from the donut) and store juices or drinks, not much better than the coca cola.  So many of our children, especially those with autism who most need a changed diet, are very picky and refuse all but a limited diet that is deficient in nutrients and often directly toxic to their bodies.  So how do you get a child who only wants those crackers, or bread or other “snacks” to eat meat or vegetables or fruit?  How do you get that 6-12 month old who only wants to nurse, to try a new food? 

I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is absolutely essential that you, the parent, learn how to modify their eating behavior. Their brain depends on it.  Let’s start with the nursing infant. When your baby is hungry or very upset, it is appropriate to nurse them, especially for the first 6-12 months of life. We now know it’s best to introduce solids at 4 months, and this may make it easier than waiting until 6 months when they are even more aware of likes and dislikes.  Early introduction actually reduces the chance of allergies (yes, I know that’s opposite to what we have said for decades). At some point when your infant is not upset and not particularly hungry, offer a taste of something you want them to eat.  As soon as they taste it, with lots of joy and praise, let them know with emotion that you are happy with them and give them the breast.  Repeat this until they are begging for that food so they can get the breast (I’m exaggerating – but you get the point). This is behavior modification 101.  It works on animals, it works on humans. 

For the most difficult picky eaters, the ones who can hold out for days it seems, try to find something that motivates them. Perhaps it’s the breast if you are still nursing; maybe it’s that processed cracker or other sweet food, or an iPad or favorite movie etc. When they are calm, get them to taste, or even just lick the food and immediately lavish praise and give them what they really wanted. Continue with eventually giving them a little piece to chew and swallow before they get that desired food or iPad etc.

Dr. Paul


One comment

  • Angela

    I facilitate a parenting support group, and one thing that I really try to get across is that your kids will eat what you feed them. If you don’t give them crackers and processed cereals, they won’t ask for it. Let’s think about countries where parents don’t have the choice to buy the highly processed junk food disguised as kid fare. The toddlers and children eat what the adults eat. Many moms give in to the demands because they want them to eat something. My advice is to slowly reduce the amount of processed foods and keep offering the healthy foods. I like Dr. Sear’s suggestion for a “nibble tray”, leave out an assortment of healthy foods within reach of the child, and they will eat it as they play and get hungry. This works for my older kids. If I leave a bowl of cut up veggies or fruit on the table, they eat it because its there. If I ask what they want, they may ask for something less healthy. So I don’t ask. Its easier if you’ve always offered healthy foods. Processed foods or treats are “sometimes” foods

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