Tips on getting your picky eater to eat

CNN recently released a report on picky eaters. This short piece featured the family of a picky pre-schooler, Harper O’Bamsawin. The brave O’Bamsawin family opened their house to the world, seeking solutions to improve their dinner table experience. The result, however, was an expose of common problems left unsolved.

As the camera revealed a typical meal in Harper’s home, it quickly became clear that Harper’s parents have fallen into common behaviors that only breed picky eating. They unknowingly, unconsciously, struggle through a meal that would leave any parent sweaty with worried frustration. Regardless of any of the helpful tips offered by the physician that was interviewed throughout the segment, the visual images of the struggling O’Bamsawin family overshadowed any constructive advice.

It was simply painful to watch poor Harper choke down that piece of chicken. She nearly vomited.

In my opinion, the journalist missed a great opportunity to highlight the behaviors of the O’Bamsawin family that were caught by the camera. Their dinner table experience is shared by so many other families struggling to get a child to eat. Practical solutions could have been offered by experts, allowing some intervention and providing help to the O’Bamsawins. Instead, the parents were left their shrugging their shoulders in perceived helplessness, and Harper was no closer to enjoying family dinner.

The good news is that for parents of even the pickiest of eaters, there is hope for change. New habits and attitudes can be added to the family table to limit the negative experience of the family meal, and encourage every child to eat independently to their own satisfaction.

If I could pull up a chair at the O’Bamsawin table.

I would ask everyone to put the same food on their plate. Everyone.

I would ask Dad to choose better words when he is talking to Harper about food. No begging, no justifying.

I would commend them for not having the TV on during dinner.

I would ask Dad to get his fork out of Harper’s mouth. She has the physical ability to feed herself.

I would want mom to let go of her guilt around mealtime. There is still time to change, improve, and grow.

I would tell Harper’s parents that gagging down an undesired food is not a success. She needs to increase her personal confidence and internal motivation to eat, not have the will to suppress a reflex.

I would let Harper serve herself, empowering her to choose what amount will be on her plate.

I would ask Mom to keep the yogurt in the fridge. She prepared a great meal for Harper. It was Harper’s choice to not eat it.

I would think of ways Harper can get involved in meal preparation. Make her proud to create new things to try.

I would ask Mom to not say aloud, “we don’t eat veggies.” In fact, I would challenge the family to open everyone to new food experiences with Harper. They can all learn new things together.

I would ask the parents to have trust in Harper’s body, and watch her growth with her pediatricians guidance.

And, most importantly, I would get comfortable with the wait.

Natasha Burgert is a pediatrician who blogs at KC Kids Doc.

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  • querywoman

    I was a picky eater as a child, and still am. I hated eggs and milk. The family doctor told my parents not to worry about those things, since I got the nutrients from other foods.
    Sometimes they tried to get me eat certain foods, sometimes not.
    In first grade, I threw up lima beans in school that I was trying to eat so I could earn ice cream.
    I would eat milk in other forms, like cheese. I first tasted yogurt in my teens, and I like it. So I probably have a lactose intolerance.
    I was diagnosed with food allergies and intolerances in my early 30s. I have significant problems with the entire legume family: peas, peanuts, and beans, eggs, coconut, and barley.
    Mostly I manage well through avoidance.
    Food allergies are hard to diagnose and understand.
    I have always loved fresh fruit, but was not that much of a veggie eater. When my deceased bio mother and I would eat a buffet, she’d always get on me if I didn’t have fruit, because she knows that’s where I get most of my vitamins. My current surrogate mother would like me to eat more veggies, but she’s learned about the fruit. Today, she brought me back four orange slices without my asking, and they tasted divine.

  • ethanspapa

    As a child, getting through any meal without parents fighting over the silliest things was a miracle. If they didn’t start having a few cocktails to relax after a hard day none of that insanity would of started in the first place. I’m sure mealtime would of been a happier place.
    Now about that bottle of Librium that was always on the kitchen table. Once i studied the sciences in School and learned a little bit about human behavior I finally figured it out.

    • querywoman

      We had to watch the blood and guts of the world news at dinnertime and keep our mouths shut during a juicy tidbit. I don’t watch the news or TV. I can’t remember when I last turned the TV on.

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