Guest Blog: The Number One Thing You Can Do to Stop Picky Eating: Don't Ask!

Today I am pleased to bring you a guest post from fellow pediatric dietitian, author, and blogger, Kate Samela, MS, RD, CSP. Kate and I were on the nutrition staff together at our local childrens hospital. Kate brings tremendous pediatric experience to her book on toddler feeding, Give Peas a Chance: The Fool-Proof Guide to Feeding Your Picky Toddler (Sourcebooks 2013). Plus it is written in an approachable way that is sure to help parents struggling with picky toddlers.

One of the biggest mistakes parents make, especially with toddlers, is asking their child what they would like to eat for any given meal. In a nano second, you have relinquished all of the control you might have had if you just said " breakfast is ready!". I know, not giving choices these days seems like a cruelty - we are all taught to make our kids feel empowered by offering choices. Don't get me wrong, I believe in offering choices to an extent; however, if you ask an open-ended question to a child about what they would like to eat, you might find frustration with their response (i.e. the same old thing he ate for the past few days). This routine of asking actually works against giving your child the opportunity to try new foods. Most toddlers don't even know what they want to eat, as their diets are often limited to ten foods anyway!  Many are surprisingly willing to try new foods when given the chance – repeatedly.

If you are accustomed to asking your child what they would like to eat for each meal, you might start by making small changes and offering just two choices at breakfast and lunch. Dinner should be family style, and he should eat something from the table (i.e. there are no special requests for dinner each night).

Here's an example:  "Timmy, we have waffles or cinnamon toast today for breakfast." Eventually, you may not even have to offer the two choices, and just simply present the food without even asking. Once he understands that there are limits to his choices, he will settle into his meal time routine quite nicely. Remember, kids feel much more secure (hence, fewer tantrums) when parents set boundaries for them. This is true with food too!

Kate Samela MS, RD, CSP has been a Registered Dietitian for 14 years and is board certified by the Commission on Dietetic Registration as a specialist in pediatric nutrition. She just published her first book, Give Peas a Chance: The Fool-Proof Guide to Feeding Your Picky Toddler (Sourcebooks 2013). After obtaining a Master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition from New York University, she spent the next ten years of her career working with children of all ages prescribing nutrition therapy and counseling families on feeding and nutrition; Kate has taught on the topic of pediatric nutrition to hundreds of medical, nursing, and dietetic students at premier children’s hospitals along the east coast. She has spoken nationally and published several articles on various topics of digestive health in nutrition and has been featured on ABC-CT, and Fox-CT News speaking on portion sizes for toddlers and preparing home-made baby food.  Kate currently works in a busy outpatient pediatric practice specializing in digestive diseases and nutrition. She resides in Connecticut with her husband and two children. Check out Kate's Facebook page for more of her thoughts on toddler feeding.