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Stefanie Tsabar

3 quick tips for the reluctant eater



If you’ve got a child who is reluctant to try new foods, then it’s probably causing you a lot of stress.

You might worry about her health, get frustrated that she doesn’t eat the food you prepare or feel anxious watching her struggle so much.

As you know, your child’s pickiness is also causing him or her a ton of stress.

Not only is she worried about finding something to eat at a restaurant or party but she also knows that the issue causes mom and dad to be anxious. And, no child wants to be the cause of her parents’ upset.

The good news is that there are a few easy things you can do right away to start resolving your reluctant eater’s anxiety and help her expand her palate. Here are 3 quick tips to get you started:

1. Forget about “new” foods for a while.

Once a child is anxious about food, the most important thing is to reset her sense of safety. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply, forget about trying to expand her repertoire for the time being and serve familiar and comforting foods for her at every meal. (Tip: Enlist your child to make a master list of all her favorites.)

I recommend packing school lunch and snacks with comforting foods, and at dinnertime, serve enough comforting food for your child to fill up on. You’re welcome to include a new dish, but don’t make it in hopes that your child will try it just yet.

2. Stop talking about food.

The more you focus on food, the more your child will feel anxious (even if your intention is to help him). Less compliant children will whine or throw a temper tantrum, but more sensitive kids will lose their appetites, get anxious and feel guilty for letting down mom or dad.

Here are 3 important DON’TS to keep in mind:

  • Don’t offer your child (or ask him to try) the new dish. He’ll ask you to pass it when he’s ready.
  • Don’t make any comments about how good the food tastes or smells.
  • Don’t many any comments about what he eats or doesn’t eat.

Once you get the hang of it, your child will relax and reach out on his/her own to try something new. You will be shocked! But, it will happen. 

3. Plan, Plan, Plan for eating out.

An anxious child does not like surprises and most of these kids will verbalize their concerns repeatedly.

My son is an incredibly adventurous eater now… BUT in the past, he had a huge amount of anxiety over food. Before going out to eat, he would always  ask me in a panic, “what will happen if I don’t like anything at the restaurant?”.

Here’s what I’ve found to help when going out to eat:

For restaurants:  Pull up the menu online before going anywhere new and go through the menu with your child. If you legitimately cannot find something he’d like, go somewhere else or bring him something to eat from home.

For parties: Call the host in advance to see what the menu will be and offer to bring something that will fit in with the menu and also be comforting to your child.

So, to recap: 1) Forget about “new” foods for a while, 2) Stop talking about food and 3) Plan, plan, plan for eating out.

Some kids are just naturally more hesitant in all areas of life, and it’s important that they never feel like we are pushing them out of their comfort zones. 

They will naturally become curious to try new foods once we stop trying so hard and instead help them feel comfortable where they are today with their familiar foods.

I hope these quick tips help you and your reluctant eater find more peace at the dinner table. For more on this topic, check out my post 10 Mistakes Well-Meaning Parents Make at Dinner.

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