Picky eating – why is family meal time such mayhem?!

Picky eating – why is family meal time such mayhem?!

Click on the image to watch the Global Calgary clip, where I discuss what you can do about your picky eater!

Do you get frustrated after you make a large family meal and your kids only take two bites? Or maybe you wish that there were some go-to meals that everyone could agree upon. The good news is that taking control of the dinner hour is within your reach.

So many of my clients face this problem – and maybe you do too. Whether you are dealing with picky eaters, rushed mealtime or other dinner table dilemmas, this year’s Nutrition Month 2017 campaign has a solution. Plug your problem into their three-step approach to Take the Fight out of Food. Here’s an example of how it works:

Kayla works full-time and prepares dinner for her family every night. She often struggles to get a meal on the table that everyone will enjoy. One child is quite picky, one doesn’t want to try new things, and no one agrees on the foods they like.

Spot the problem: Kayla’s struggle is making family meals that everyone will enjoy.

Get the facts: Kayla visits www.dietitians.ca and searches “picky eaters.” She reads that parents and children have different jobs at mealtime – and she’d never thought about it that way before. Her job is to decide which nourishing foods are served, when dinnertime is, and where they will eat. It’s then up to her children to decide what and how much to eat from what she offers.

Kayla is relieved to have a framework for a plan, with separate roles for herself and her kids. She quickly realizes that some small changes can make mealtime more enjoyable for everyone. Now that she knows that it’s her children’s job to determine how much to eat, she can stop telling them to “eat everything on their plate.” Plus, she now knows not to let the kids decide where they want to eat, which is often in front of the TV instead of at the dinner table.

As she continues to read information about picky eating on Eat Right Ontario and Healthlink BC websites, she learns that children take their nutrition cues from their parents, so she can set a good example by preparing and eating nourishing choices. She admits to herself that she rarely eats vegetables, and realizes her kids won’t either! She also finds out that:

 Children’s appetites can be erratic and that’s okay! The amount her children eat will vary each day depending on their appetite, fatigue, activity level and if they are having a growth spurt. It doesn’t always mean they are picky – it is normal.

 Getting kids involved with grocery shopping, prepping and cooking food can help them become more interested in trying new things.

 It can take 8-15 tastes or more before a child will like a new food.

 Kids may seem picky or may eat a small amount because they are simply not hungry at meal times.

 It’s best to offer three meals and two or three snacks at regular times each day and to make sure kids aren’t grazing throughout the day. This will help the kids come to the table hungry since even a little milk, juice or few crackers can spoil a child’s appetite

Seek support: Kayla feels better knowing that she’s not the only mom with picky eaters. She learns that up to 35 per cent of toddlers and preschoolers are described by their parents as picky eaters too! She finds some online support groups to talk to other parents about mealtime craziness. They share stories, swap recipes and inspire each other.

This is where dietitians can help too. I often see clients and help them with mealtime solutions that are family-friendly. You can find a dietitian in your area at www.dietitians.ca/find. You can also try your local grocery store, which may have staff dietitians who offer grocery store tours and cooking classes for kids.

Getting your kids more involved in shopping, prepping and cooking meals will make them more interested in family meals! Start by cooking these three kid-friendly options that they choose together:

  • No-Bake Coconut & Banana Lentil Energy Bites
  • Egg, tomato and cheese breakfast pizzas
  • Hearty beef minestrone

Try these with your kids too, and find all 12 feature recipes at www.NutritionMonth2017.ca.

Look for more recipes on the Cookspiration app, and choose one that is marked as “kid approved” or “kids choice.”

Do you have a food fight that you struggle with? Try the three-step approach to Take the Fight out of Food and make your commitment official at www.nutritionmonth2017.ca. If you need extra support, check out my services for Picky Eaters.

Did you know that Dietitians of Canada has led Nutrition Month Campaign for more than 30 years? This blog post was adapted from materials found on the DC Nutrition Month website.


  • Caley Remington
    Posted at 03:14h, 21 March Reply

    Great article and interview Jen. Thanks so much for sharing your valuable advice. On the “when” to eat, is dinner the last time? Bedtime snack? Do you still get a snack if you haven’t eaten dinner?

    • Jennifer House
      Posted at 13:57h, 21 March Reply

      Hi Caley,
      Depending on how early you have dinner and how late bedtime is, a bedtime snack could be appropriate! If there’s a 2+ hour gap, then yes. Yes, everyone can have snack regardless of if they’ve eaten dinner. And it doesn’t have to be a leftover dinner they refused (although that’s ok if they actually like dinner, but just weren’t hungry at the time!).
      Often we just have a 1 hour gap if dinner runs late, but the kids are still in the habit of wanting a snack. Regardless of if dinner was eaten. Which isn’t really ideal, because then if they don’t want to try dinner dinner they can just hold out for the snack. We’re not perfect around here either, but I know how things are “supposed” to go ;

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