• Susan Clark

Picky Eaters? Mealtimes Spinning out of Control?

Updated: May 1, 2019

My mother asked me to write down a few helpful hints for parents struggling with mealtimes and I thought I would share it with you all too!

Keep in mind t

These are suggestions only, I am not a therapist. Although I have embarked on a new postpartum doula career I have been a nanny for the past three decades and this is based upon that experience and personal research.

First I have to say I have not personally met a child that will starve themselves for more than a meal (or two). With that said here are some basics to keep in mind.

Mealtimes may become a power play and the more you want them to eat healthy the more they may protest any suggestions.

Set the tone and tell the kids the new “rules” (3-5 simple rules- create a list from this sheet and/or other helpful information) separate from meal time. Sit down as a family and explain what the changes will be including the “no pressure idea.” It is up to them. Takes the power away and if they are hungry enough they will eat something from their plate. If not “let it go” Power struggles with children never go well. Don’t ask, explain things in short statements (not a questioning tone). Be clear and repeat once or twice and move on. Answer questions but don’t get sidetracked. Explain that things are changing, the old way is not healthy. Not healthy for the parents mental health and the kids way of thinking things are in life. Your kitchen is NOT a restaurant!

Make one meal with choices that the whole family will tolerate. Keep it simple. Then add in new items once the new systems feels like it is working.

I give veggies as an appetizer at times. The veggies seem to get eaten more readily when they are hungry and no other options are available. Again, no comments but the facts. “Here is an appetizer for you all to munch on while I am making the dinner.” Maybe a cheese sauce or ranch dressing for broccoli and carrots? Frozen peas can be fun too! Get silly in the kitchen. Keep things fun and not so serious. Music and a silly hat. Have little aprons for them all to wear. Smile!

Get them involved where appropriate with meal choices that involves them thinking of each other and coming together as a family team. Incorporate the kids in the preparation where possible and clean up. Again having fun. I used to do the dishes with my best friend and we giggled the whole time. I still enjoy hand washing to this day.

Start this when there is not a lot going on so the kids are not losing it while you are out and about from their own hunger moods.

They may eat or not eat whatever is on their plate

There are no substitutions and no second helpings when they still have food on their plate.

Mommy and daddy deserve to relax during meal time too! What a concept!

Parents are not to talk about kids eating or do subtle remarks about how the eating is going. No praises. No suggestions. We all eat and adults don’t praise each other for eating. We eat, we socialize about our day and enjoy the family time. The pressure is off.

Set the example. No phones or tv, put on relaxing music, change the setting.

This is mom and dad enjoying dinner without the concern if the kids satisfy their own hunger.

Mom and dad are to eat and enjoy their food. Super subtle comments about what oneself is eating no comments on other’s eating. Kids are smart!!! One or two is good, look at your own plate, smile naturally, take some bites. Talk about a fun future event coming up. Talk about alligators, anything, just not the dinner.

Be patient and allow this all to fail and fall apart and come together. There will be resistance, so expect it and do not let it deter you. Continuous effort will produce results. Stay on target. Hold up your end of the bargain.

Think about your set of rules. Make them easy to follow at first.

1- We all sit and eat together. We stay at the table until mom or dad says it okay to wash up.

2- We all have the same food on our plates

3-we eat what we choose (use the word choose instead of want, keeps them realizing they are deciding to be hungry or eat) to keep our bodies healthy and feeling well.

4-We all help clean up as best as each can at their ages

5-Mom and Dad (have control) choose the meals (at first)

*Maybe give less to drink during mealtimes so they don’t fill up on liquid (which lasts about 20 minutes then they are hungry again) This supposedly aids with digestion as they absorb more nutrients since the acid is less diluted.

Offer them all drinks of water an hour or so before mealtimes. No milk at dinner time it is just too filling and counterproductive.

My friend’s Pediatrician said “Offer foods many times before deciding your child does not like them.” At least twelve the doctor said!


Postpartum Doula
Susan Clark



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