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The Picky Eater

by Elizabeth Pantley, Author of Kid Cooperation and Perfect Parenting

My child wants to eat only her two favorite foods: cereal and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. She eats tiny amounts of any other food and complains about what’s put in front of her. What can I do about this?

Think about it:
As long as your child is healthy, and is of normal height and weight, relax your attitude about food. The more you worry and scold, the bigger battleground food will become. In addition, if you also have specific rules about food, and enforce them with a calm demeanor, you’ll have fewer battles.

Offer healthy choices:
Limit the high-fat and high-sugar foods that are available to your child. Offer healthy choices and don’t worry so much about the occasional food jags. Evaluate your child’s diet on a weekly, not daily, basis. Most kids, when given nutritious options, will eat a balanced diet when viewed over a weekly time period.

Have a specific schedule for meal time and snack time, and don’t allow snacking on unhealthy food at other times. (A piece of fruit or a veggie at any time is fine!) If your child is hungry when a meal is served she’ll more likely eat what’s put in front of her. Modify meal times, if possible, to take advantage of your child’s hungry parts of the day. As an example, most kids are truly hungry when they walk in the door after school. Take advantage of this by serving dinner at that time and a light snack later. This way, the kids will eat a healthy meal instead of filling up on snacks while they wait for dinner.

Serve smaller portions:
Your child’s stomach is about the size of her clenched fist, smaller than you thought! If you serve meals on smaller plates and include just a small amount of each food, the meal won’t appear so intimidating to your child.

Give in – a little:
Serve your child’s favorite food as a small side dish to meals. A half peanut butter and jelly sandwich makes a fine side dish to roasted chicken!

Create rules:
Do you remember eating the dinner your mother set in front of you without a fuss? Most of us do. The reason is that our mothers did not feel the ambivalence about serving meals that we do. Try to modify your way of thinking to one simple thought, “This is dinner. If you’re hungry eat, if not, you’re excused from the table.” Save a plate of dinner for your child, and if she’s hungry an hour later offer the dinner, and nothing else. Be consistent with this rule, and your child will begin to eat what’s served, just like you did when you were a kid.

One night off:
Allow your child the option to have toast or cereal for dinner one night a week, passing on a meal he doesn’t like. When he knows he can skip one meal he’ll make a decision to eat things that aren’t favorites, and save his “cereal day” for the day you’re having the food he likes least.

Copyright Elizabeth Pantley. (McGraw-Hill, 2003)

About the Author:
Elizabeth Pantley is the author of several books, including
Gentle Baby Care : No-cry, No-fuss, No-worry — Essential Tips for Raising Your Baby, The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night, Kid Cooperation (with an introduction by William Sears, MD), Perfect Parenting, as well as her latest The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers and is also president of Better Beginnings, Inc. She is a popular speaker on family issues, and her newsletter, Parent Tips, is seen in schools nationwide. She appears as a regular radio show guest, and has been quoted in Parents, Parenting, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, American Baby, Working Mother, and Woman’s Day magazines. Visit Elizabeth’s web site

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