Experts Say Modeling Good Habits Key To Picky Eaters

The old way to deal with kids who were picky eaters was to force or bribe them to finish their dinners. Experts now say modeling healthy eating and having lots of patience are the keys.

Mom Preparing Food With Her Kids

Many adults today remember a time when they stared down a plate of food they hated, knowing that in order to leave the table every bite had to be eaten. Parents used punishments, bribes, and sometimes guilt trips about starving children to force kids to eat all of their dinners. As obesity rates rise, however, some experts think these tactics are what created the too-common food issues that people have today.

“The new model for being a good eater is to be able to use your internal system of hunger and fullness to guide when and how much you eat, and then begin to make food decisions in our abundant food environment that still nourish and nurture you,” says Dr. Michelle May, a retired, Arizona-based family physician and author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.

Experts now suggest parents model healthy eating behavior, rather than try to force it. Theresa Riege, a public health nutritionist, suggests parents serve healthy meals, yet leave it up to the children how much and of what they will eat. Despite the fears that left to this a child will survive on chocolates and chips alone, by modeling healthy eating habits parents can help teach a child how to eat. That is far more effective than force.

“You don’t want to link food to reward or punishment or bribe, or any sort of feelings. We only want our kids to eat when they’re hungry.”

Of course, for children who have been raised with the old standards, this will lead to less-than-ideal eating habits in the beginning. For most, they will balance out their diets at their own pace.

Parents can help teach their children about healthy eating in a number of ways.

  • Parents should model healthy eating habits in front of their children.
  • Parents should offer children a variety of foods at meals and snack times.
  • Parents should let children be involved in choosing fruits and vegetables when shopping, and in the kitchen.
  • Parents should explain why certain foods are healthier than others.
  • Parents should make an effort to serve family meals, rather than convenience or fast foods.

At least half of all children will have some kind of feeding issue at some point in their childhood. Rather than pushing through it, parents can set good examples and have the patience that this phase will pass. – Summer, staff writer

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About the author


Summer is a mom of three, living life in the slow lane along historic Route 66. She writes, homeschools, gardens, and is still trying to learn how to knit.

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