boy refusing to eat

Picky Eaters

December 13, 2023 Children

Picky Eaters

By: Christina mcGeough, mph, rd, cdces

If you’re a parent of a picky eater like me, mealtimes can be filled with frustration around your child’s limited food selections. Maybe they only want to eat one kind of food or don’t want different foods to touch on their plate. If you have more than one child, you may feel like you are constantly preparing food to meet the demands of your picky eaters. Reacting negatively to your child’s food aversions and dislikes probably leads to tense and stressful mealtimes. You have probably learned that being too controlling around meals does not help your child accept the foods you offer.

Let’s dive into some strategies to consider when trying to improve your child’s eating behaviors. What works for you and your family may be different, but it can be helpful to first identify and establish your and your child’s expectations at mealtimes. For example:

Caregiver roles during meals and snacks include:

Children’s roles during meals and snacks are to:

Setting simple and flexible meal schedules and realistic expectations can improve your child’s willingness to accept foods and lead to a more pleasant mealtime experience for everyone. During early childhood children seek independence, crave exploration, and develop likes and dislikes that includes food. Instead of thinking of being a “picky eater” in a negative way, consider reframing it as they are children trying to be independent and have control over their environment. New smells, flavors, and textures of food can be overwhelming.

Here are simple tips to make mealtimes more fun and less stressful:

Offer small portions. In general, portions for young children should be half the amount of those for adults. Smaller portions can make meals seem less intimidating.

Avoid offering too many snacks and drinks. Constantly giving snacks and sweetened beverages like juice, flavored milk, and soda can reduce appetite, promote cavities, and lead to excessive weight gain.

Create colorful plates. Make meals fun by adding colorful combinations which make foods pop and look more appetizing.

Offer foods that have different textures. Pair a crunchy food like carrots with a soft food like mashed potato, and chewy, tender food, like grilled salmon. Sometimes children prefer soft or mushy foods and may be nervous to try chewy or crunchy foods. If they don’t like it at first it doesn’t mean they won’t like it at all. They may need to see the food a few times in a few different ways before they decide to try it.

Keep offering a variety of foods. Even if your child dislikes a food or is unwilling to try foods you offer, it doesn’t mean they will not learn to like them. Children often must try foods more than 10-15 times before they like and/or accept them.

Engage their senses. Help your child explore, with their senses, by discussing how foods look, feel, taste, and smell.

family having lunch

It may take a while to see improvements in your child’s eating behaviors, and you may need to talk to your healthcare team about strategies and activities to try with your child. As a parent, my biggest words of wisdom are to be patient and persistent with establishing healthy habits that work with your family.


Side-Lying Hold

  1. For the right breast, lie on your right side with your baby facing you.
  2. Pull your baby close. Your baby’s mouth should be level with your nipple.
  3. In this position, you can cradle your baby’s back with your left arm and support yourself with your right arm and/or pillows.
  4. Keep loose clothing and bedding away from your baby.
  5. Reverse for the left breast.

This hold is useful when:


Cross-Cradle Hold

  1. For the right breast, use your left arm to hold your baby’s head at your right breast and baby’s body toward your left side. A pillow across your lap can help support your left arm.
  2. Gently place your left hand behind your baby’s ears and neck, with your thumb and index finger behind each ear and your palm between baby’s shoulder blades. Turn your baby’s body toward yours so your tummies are touching.
  3. Hold your breast as if you are squeezing a sandwich. To protect your back, avoid leaning down to your baby. Instead, bring your baby to you.
  4. As your baby’s mouth opens, push gently with your left palm on baby’s head to help them latch on. Make sure you keep your fingers out of the way.
  5. Reverse for the left breast.

This hold is useful when:


Clutch or “Football” Hold

  1. For the right breast, hold your baby level, facing up, at your right side.
  2. Put your baby’s head near your right nipple and support their back and legs under your right arm.
  3. Hold the base of your baby’s head with your right palm. A pillow underneath your right arm can help support your baby’s weight.
  4. To protect your back, avoid leaning down to your baby. Bring baby to you instead.
  5. Reverse for the left breast.

This hold is useful when:


Cradle Hold

  1. For the right breast, cradle your baby with your right arm. Your baby will be on their left side across your lap, facing you at nipple level.
  2. Your baby’s head will rest on your right forearm with your baby’s back along your inner arm and palm.
  3. Turn your baby’s tummy toward your tummy. Your left hand is free to support your breast, if needed. Pillows can help support your arm and elbow.
  4. To protect your back, avoid leaning down to your baby. Instead, bring your baby to you.
  5. Reverse for the left breast.

This hold is useful when:


Laid-Back Hold

  1. Lean back on a pillow with your baby’s tummy touching yours and their head at breast level. Some moms find that sitting up nearly straight works well. Others prefer to lean back and lie almost flat.
  2. You can place your baby’s cheek near your breast, or you may want to use one hand to hold your breast near your baby. It’s up to you and what you think feels best.
  3. Your baby will naturally find your nipple, latch, and begin to suckle.

This hold is useful when: