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  • Writer's pictureKate Killion

When your child says, "I don't like it!" How to respond to picky eating

Three children sitting at the dining table. Children look upset.

Let’s face it: kids aren’t shy about expressing their dislike for certain foods. And after cooking for 30 minutes or longer, the phrase “I don’t like it” can sound like nails on a chalkboard. So, it’s no surprise that many of us try to manage picky eating with phrases like,

  • Just try it!

  • What do you mean? You liked it last time!

  • Eat three bites and then you can be all done.

However, these phrases have consequences. When you say the words above, you're really saying:

  • I don’t believe you.

  • You’re lying.

  • You have to eat something, even if it feels bad in your body.

There is a better way.

First, set your kids up for success by following the division of responsibility in feeding. YOU decide what foods are served and when they are served, and your child decides which foods to eat and how much to eat.

(P.S. We know this is a hard step. Schedule an appointment with our dietitian for more support!)

Then, follow the Table Talk Method, described by Registered Dietitian Stephanie Meyers in her book, “End the Mealtime Meltdown.”

First, ask your child, “what do you notice about [food]?”

This prompts your child to describe the food. If they have a hard time, ask them what the food looks, feels, smells, and sounds like. Ask them to use true descriptive words here! For example, instead of saying it feels “bad” in their mouth, they might say it feels too squishy or slimy.

Next, ask “what would help it?”

Now, your child can suggest food or non-food based solutions. For example, a child might ask for ketchup or to eat the food with a new utensil. If they make a reasonable request, honor it! If they ask for a completely new food that is not on the dinner menu, maintain your job and your child's job by saying, “[requested food] isn’t available right now.”

After an unreasonable request, or if they tell you that nothing would help, say “it’s okay to leave it.”

And here’s the hard part: you actually let them leave it.

You don’t say “try just a bite,” or “but then you can’t have dessert,” or “good boys and girls eat their [food].” You don’t cajole them into trying it. You don’t make a new meal for your child. Instead, you allow them to eat the foods they like, and leave the foods they don’t.

You might be wondering: what’s the point if they still don’t eat the food I made? My child is still a picky eater!

Here is the point: We’re teaching our children how to navigate situations where they don’t like foods. We're teaching them how to express their needs. We’re teaching them that food isn’t such a big deal, and how to listen to their bodies. We're teaching them to have a healthy relationship with food.

And more often than not? We’re setting them up to feel safe exploring new foods in the future, because they trust that we will not force them to eat it.

And in my opinion, that is an outcome worth celebrating.

Changing your table talk is hard work, but support from our registered dietitian can help. To book an appointment, request a session online, call (833) 516-0454, or email! And good news- we accept health insurance!

Scheduling is managed by LWell, Inc.

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