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What Should You Do if Your Child Is a Picky Eater?

Two of my three children were picky eaters as toddlers (and beyond), while my other child ate everything he could get his hands on. As a mom, I took my parenting cues from my own childhood — my mother never made a big deal about my or my brother’s food preferences. We’d have a home-cooked dinner every night and if there was something we didn’t want to eat, that was okay.

While the dinners I made were not as elaborate as my mom’s, for the most part they were just as calm. There was always cereal or a peanut butter sandwich available if my children did not like what was served for dinner.

While there are plenty of things I would have done differently as a parent, apparently not making a big deal out of food choices is something I did right.

A study from the University of Michigan published in ScienceDirect (April 2018) dealt with the issue of parental pressure on children’s food choices. Not surprisingly, nagging picky eaters did not lead to them choosing “healthier” foods. Other questions the study aimed to answer include:

  • Does pressuring children to eat certain foods contribute to weight gain/obesity?
  • If parents don’t interfere with children’s food choices, what happens to the child’s overall health?

Julie Lumeng, lead author of the study, is the director of the U-M Center for Human Growth and Development and a physician at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital. She says:

“In a nutshell, we found that over a year of life in toddlerhood, weight remained stable on the growth chart whether they were picky eaters or not. The kids’ picky eating also was not very changeable. It stayed the same whether parents pressured their picky eaters or not. Then we asked if pressuring led to a decrease in picky eating, and it didn’t. There was no link between pressuring and picky eating and any of these other outcomes.”

Children, like all of us, have food preferences and they don’t always gravitate toward the healthiest foods. Some parents worry that catering to their picky eaters will spoil them but Dr. Lumeng doesn’t agree. She recounts this story from her own childhood:

Her mother served everyone at the table peas with dinner, but she was given carrots. She was puzzled at first, but her mother told her, “I’m serving you carrots because you don’t like peas.” Lumeng said the simple act made her feel “very loved and respected” since her mother not only knew what she liked but was willing to offer it at a meal, even if it meant a bit of extra work.

As for my own children — the picky eaters and the adventurous one — they are now all grown up and are all very healthy eaters. I think because what food they chose to eat or not eat was always a non-issue when they were younger, it remained that way as they grew. The two picky eaters eventually decided to broaden their horizons and now love all kinds of food. Maybe the takeaway from all this is to trust our children more when it comes time to eat.

What Should You Do if Your Child Is a Picky Eater?


Janet Singer

Janet Singer’s son Dan suffered from OCD so severe that he could not even eat. After navigating through a disorienting maze of treatments and programs, Dan made a triumphant recovery. Janet has become an advocate for OCD awareness and wants everyone to know that OCD, no matter how severe, is treatable. There is so much hope for those with this disorder. Janet, who uses a pseudonym to protect her son’s privacy, is the author of Overcoming OCD: A Journey to Recovery, published in January 2015 by Rowman & Littlefield. Her own blog, www.ocdtalk.wordpress.com, has reached readers in 167 countries. She is married with three children and resides in New England.


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APA Reference
Singer, J. (2018). What Should You Do if Your Child Is a Picky Eater?. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 25, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/what-should-you-do-if-your-child-is-a-picky-eater/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 1 Sep 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 1 Sep 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.