Why It’s Okay for Your Child to Be a Selective Eater:

Building a Better
Relationship with Food

We’ve partnered with Walmart to bring you four strategies that will help expand your child’s palate—without force feeding, name calling, or negotiating.

As a conscientious parent, you might be tempted to, shall we say, strongly encourage your kids to eat anything and everything you make for them. Surely, if French children can eat paté and oysters, then carrots that aren’t cut into coins should be doable.

Well, the truth is that it may be time to rethink that strategy—because it might be doing more harm than good. Here, child nutritionist Victoria Feltman, RD, CDN, helps parents understand why they shouldn’t pressure kids to eat things they don’t like, and how they can encourage nutritious eating in a way that actually works.

Children like to have control, too.

The Solve: Give them a variety of simple options at mealtime.

Feltman, who has three children, says:

Everything I do—in my own house and with clients—is based on this philosophy: When it comes to meals, the parent is responsible for what, when, and where. The child is responsible for whether and how much.

Which means that at dinnertime, she sets out a variety of foods, including protein and fresh vegetables, and always includes one thing she knows they will eat, such as rice.

Giving them options makes them feel like they’re in control of their diet. Your kids are told what to do all day long. So it’s important to offer them choices when you can—blue socks or green socks?—and especially with food. It’s fundamental to a parent’s job,” she says, “trusting that their children can determine how much and whether to eat.

They may have already internalized
the idea that they have a “bad habit”
when it comes to meals.

The Solve: Avoid using limiting language, as it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Try to strike the term “picky eater” from your lexicon. Aside from avoiding such self-defeating labels, you can employ one simple three-letter word: “yet.” As in, “You don’t like mushrooms…yet.” It’s called having a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset, and that is a shift that will serve children well in all kinds of ways.

Feltman says:

I hate classifying foods as healthy or unhealthy. There’s room for everything within a balanced diet. Ultimately you want kids to develop a healthy relationship to food, and introduce a lot of flavors and textures.

Some foods might seem very “new.”

The Solve: Let them pitch in during grocery shopping or food prep to spark their curiosity and break down those barriers.

Remember that kids are new to every food they are introduced to, so of course they won’t always like it right away. Did you like blue cheese the first time you tried it? Feltman likes bringing her kids to the grocery store, and allows them to pick the menu one day a week.

At the grocery store, talk to your kids about how fruits and vegetables grow, and where food comes from,

she says.

You could point out apple juice and say something like, ‘These were once apples and they grew on trees, and this is the time of year when they are harvested. Remember when we went to the apple orchard?’ My kid was surprised to learn that milk comes from a cow! You can take that for granted.

Kiddos are still learning their cues
for fullness and hunger.

The Solve: Avoid negotiating and bribes.

Never force your child to eat anything or offer any bribes,

Feltman says, adding the familiar example of promising pudding in exchange for two more bites of broccoli or chicken.

You’re putting added emphasis on the sweet thing. You don’t want to teach them that pudding has more value than chicken.” She points out that a lot of kids clean their plate so they can have dessert. “You want them to learn their own hunger and fullness cues, and you don’t want to override it.

Learn how to raise kids who eat a varied, nutrition-packed
diet with these four (gentle!) strategies and fresh fruits
and veggies from Walmart.