A Blog From Your Kaiser Permanente Physicians

Toddler refusing food

Feeding a Picky Eater? Don’t Worry Too Much!

Parents worry about their children. Believe me, raising 3 kids has made this clear! I also know that fretting about what and how much our kids eat will backfire. Small children can control very little of what happens to them. But there is one thing they can control – whether they eat the food we offer them. So when we pressure them to eat, they’ll often push back.

We ask them to have another bite, try the broccoli, or finish their plates – and what happens? They dig in their heels and close their mouths! The pediatric nutritionist Ellyn Satter states this dynamic well:

Trying to get a child to eat more than she wants makes her eat less. Trying to get her to eat less than she wants makes her eat more. Trying to get her to eat certain foods makes her avoid them.

You try not to let them know you’re worried. But kids feel our worry even when it’s “hidden.”

In fact, even very young children are excellent at detecting our true emotions. My first baby cried lots. He cried morning, noon, and night. He cried outdoors and inside. He cried in my arms or his dad’s. It was exhausting! Once at a large family gathering he was fussing, and a sweet sister-in-law offered to hold him. I watched as he settled from a full scream to a calm sleep within moments in her arms. Even at that age, he sensed her calm and lack of worry and was soothed!

So rather than worry, or pressure your child to eat, talk with your pediatrician. Ask if they’re concerned about your child’s weight and nutrition. Their answer may be very reassuring!

If you’re concerned about your child being a picky eater, read my nutritional soundbites – and try to let go of your worry. Consider giving your child a daily multivitamin so all their nutritional bases are covered, even if they don’t seem to eat much. And feel reassured that for most children, this is just a phase they pass through pretty quickly!

Worrying will not help. Erma Bombeck had wisdom for us on this issue:

Worry is like a rocking chair: It gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.

Find more resources for parents:
My Doctor Online:
Eat Well, Be Active, Live Better

Disclaimer: If you have an emergency medical condition, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. An emergency medical condition is any of the following: (1) a medical condition that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that you could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in serious jeopardy to your health or body functions or organs; (2) active labor when there isn't enough time for safe transfer to a Plan hospital (or designated hospital) before delivery, or if transfer poses a threat to your (or your unborn child's) health and safety, or (3) a mental disorder that manifests itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity such that either you are an immediate danger to yourself or others, or you are not immediately able to provide for, or use, food, shelter, or clothing, due to the mental disorder. This information is not intended to diagnose health problems or to take the place of specific medical advice or care you receive from your physician or other health care professional. If you have persistent health problems, or if you have additional questions, please consult with your doctor. If you have questions or need more information about your medication, please speak to your pharmacist. Kaiser Permanente does not endorse the medications or products mentioned. Any trade names listed are for easy identification only.