Picky eating

by Katelin Whiddon

Eating is a problem I have to deal with from both ends of the spectrum, from myself overeating to my children being picky eaters. As much as we would like to, we cannot get our children to always eat how we want them to.

It seems like every child, at some point, goes through a picky stage — some of these stages lasting longer than others.

Toddlers, especially, seem to be the worst of all eaters. There are normal “food jags” that toddlers go through. You may see your child eat everything in your home for a period of time, and then go through a period where they seem to eat nothing at all.

My oldest child also went through a fruit snack phase, and I bought 20-plus boxes of Dora Fruit Snacks, but before she ate them all, she decided she didn’t want to eat them anymore. This is also a normal “food jag” toddlers will experience. You will hear several opinions about what to do with those picky eating children, but the following are things I mention to parents at my clinic.  

As emphasized in the previous article about sleep, stick to a routine. Make meal and snack times approximately the same time daily. A consistent routine is always helpful for small children.

Additionally, your child is less likely to eat at meal time if they are full from snacks or milk in between meals. Be sure to limit the amount they are taking in between meals so they will be more ready to eat at the appropriate time.

Children love to help. Try to let them help you grocery shop, choose meals and prepare food. This may make meals more fun for them and encourage them to try what they helped to prepare. Try changing the color of foods with food coloring or changing the shapes with cookie or sandwich cutters. This may make foods more visually appealing to your child.

As I’ve told my husband many times, children are more likely to eat if they see you eating it, too. If you have a plate full of cupcakes, why would your child want to eat a salad? Let them see you get excited and enjoy healthy foods. Doing so will make them more likely to try it also.  

If you still cannot get your child to eat nutrient-rich foods, try mixing it in other foods. Vegetables blend well and can go into sauces, soups, casseroles, etc. If your child will eat some of their regular foods with blended vegetables in it, they are getting extra nutrition without knowing it.

Don’t force your child to eat. Forcing them to eat only makes meal time an unpleasant one. Offer them food in small portions. This will seem less overwhelming to them and may make them more likely to try something.  If they like it, they may ask for more on their own.

Early intervention is always best when trying to incorporate new healthy habits. While some of these tips may be helpful, there are children whose picky eating may be more troublesome.

If your child appears to be underdeveloped physically or mentally from a lack of nutrients, please talk to a pediatrician or other health care provider as soon as possible.


A native of Conway, Katelin Whiddon is a family nurse practitioner at Central Arkansas Pediatrics. She and her husband, Daniel, have two daughters. A graduate of the University of Central Arkansas, she has her bachelor’s and master’s degrees.