Sunday, June 9, 2013

Fearlessly Feeding a Picky Eater - a guest post + give-away by Jill Castle, M.S., R.D.

This is the last week of school for my children {insert gasp}, which means I need to buckle down and figure out how to juggle my time between this award-winning {aw, you all make me blush} blog, raising two {awesome if I might say so myself} kids, and making time to take care of myself {novel concept, one I am working on... and all of you busy moms know, this is one of the hardest parts of parenting}.

Anyway, while I find my 'free time' in short supply once the school year ends, I always look forward to June-August as a time to read a ton, jot down my priorities and set my course for the Fall ahead. A few weeks ago, I had the chance to meet Jill Castle, the co-author of Fearless Feeding - How To Raise Healthy Eaters From High Chair to High School, and her book became my first official "summer read".

When Jill gave me a copy, I couldn't wait to delve in. I grabbed a highlighter and one of my favorite afternoon snacks (veggies rolls wrapped in rice paper, from the sushi counter at Walter Stewart's Market),

and sat there on the sidelines of my older son's tennis lesson reading her book. The approachable tips, and nonjudgmental style hit home. This is a mom who 'gets it'. Any mom, whether they are just starting out and trying to create good habits from toddlerhood+, or one who may be feeling frustrated as they try to expand their family's mealtime repertoire, can use this book as a much appreciated vote of confidence, and a little hand holding. And {drum roll} in addition to having Jill share her expertise as a gust blogger today, one of you will be lucky enough to win a copy of Jill's book! To win, simply leave a comment on this post letting me know your biggest challenge-- or best tip-- when it comes to feeding your family well. Entries will be accepted until midnight (Eastern time) Thursday, June 13th, and one winner will be chosen by on Friday, June 14th. But first, let's hear what Jill has to say, because I can't tell you how many people have asked me what do do about their picky eaters!  

10 Things You Don’t Want to Do with Your Picky Eater
Guest post by Jill Castle, MS, RD

“My three-year-old used to eat everything under the sun,” said Joanie, “but all that changed over the last couple of months.”

This phase called picky eating-- a hallmark of toddlerhood-- still throws parents for a loop. While most parents endure this, many don’t enjoy it, nor do they know exactly how to deal with it. And some make mistakes that prolong the stage beyond normal. Here, I help you understand what not to do, and why. Steer clear of these tendencies and your child’s picky eating phase will be shorter and much more tolerable.

Talk about picky eating too much. You’ve been there, and heard that. That mom who talks endlessly about how picky her child is, and how it controls her kitchen, meal table, and possibly her life! Talking about picky eating, especially in the presence of your child, draws attention to the behavior and may even reinforce it. You may also risk stigmatizing your child with a “label.” Remember: picky eating is a phase of toddlerhood—almost a rite of passage. It’s part of normal development. If it’s gone beyond the toddler years, there’s more to the story and you may need more help to sort out the root of the problem.

Nag or pressure to eat. It is so tempting to encourage or nag the picky eater to eat more (as if they forgot about the food in front of them!). The problem with this approach is that research shows that nagging or pressuring kids to eat or taste food may turn off their appetite. Imagine that—the more you pressure your child to eat, the less he eats! Not exactly what parents of picky eaters are looking for.

Feed the child (when he is clearly old enough to feed himself). Some parents take over feeding, thinking that if they offer a forkful of food, little Holly will take a bite. And she might. However, most young kids prefer to be in control of feeding themselves (and do better with eating when they are), and may be less cooperative when the adult takes over. Other children may have easy-going personalities or may want to please their parent, and acquiesce to being fed. Just know that on the spectrum of child development, kids want to be in charge of their own eating (that’s why they say “I do it.”).

Criticize eating performance. “Oh Johnny, you never eat enough! You’re wasting away!” or other admonitions like “I took the time to make this for you…” and “This has always been a favorite—I don’t understand why you’re not eating!” don’t really help in the long run. It’s helpful to know that eating is in flux during the early years, and largely reflects growth stage and appetite (and how well eating went earlier in the day). Criticisms about eating may bring up feelings of guilt, under-performance, and injure self-esteem. If you’re child doesn’t eat well, refrain from commenting. Get professional help if weight and growth are stagnant.

Use ultimatums. “No, you’re not getting down—you’ll finish your milk first,” or “You can get down when you eat three more bites of carrots.”  Ultimatums are an authoritarian approach to feeding kids, and almost never work to encourage children to enjoy or even like the food they are eating. And this is one goal of feeding children—to get them to like a variety of foods. Realistically, not every food will be liked—I bet even you have foods you’ve never liked! A respectful feeding relationship between parent and child will often yield a child who will lick or taste a bite, and a parent who keeps offering a variety of food without pressure, or an agenda.

Only offer foods the child likes. Boy, is this a trap! And many parents are in it. I don’t know a parent alive who enjoys only cooking and offering foods their child will eat. Most parents want their children to be open-minded, try different foods, and come to the table with interest and excitement. Yet, this almost never happens when the same-old food is served…not to mention a narrow diet may mean nutrient deficits, and problematic eating off-site. Catering to a child’s food preferences reinforces those foods, and keeps the child further away from a wide food variety and adventurous eating.

Praise too much for trying a bite. “Woot! Woot! Clap, clap clap! You did it! YAY. So proud of you, Trey!”(“phew—thank goodness he tried it!”) Believe it or not, praise for eating or trying food can feel like pressure to a child. You’re better off not reacting or responding to success, lest it set you back a pace or two. The business of eating should not be a test, performance or show. It’s simply the business of eating.

Rewarding for eating. “If you have four more bites of broccoli, you can have dessert.” Yeah, this tactic of rewarding will get your child to eat more broccoli, but it will also get your child to value dessert over broccoli. Big time. Think about the long-term implications of this—favoring dessert over veggies. Needing dessert (or another reward) to eat the healthy stuff. The truth is, there’s no real reward to solidifying these food attitudes today, in the long run.

Respond to antics. Yes, we all do it. In the moment when our child has worn us out, or when the picky eating is just too much. We want to shout, we want to discipline, we want to cry, we want to Get. Him. Whatever. He. Wants. Step away from the kitchen. Don’t do it. Keep that business-as-usual attitude. The poker face—you know it-- the blank, no-reaction face despite the whirl of emotions going on inside. Remember: Your job is feeding. His job is eating. No emotions, no caving, no anger. You can do it.

 Jill Castle is a registered dietitian and childhood nutrition expert, and proud mom to four kids. She is founder of the blog, Just the Right Byte and co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School.

I hope that you found Jill's tips helpful. If you would like a chance to win a copy of her book, Fearless Feeding - How To Raise Healthy Eaters From High Chair to High School, simply leave a comment on this post letting me know your biggest challenge-- or best tip-- when it comes to feeding your family well. Entries will be accepted until midnight (Eastern time) Thursday, June 13th, and one winner will be chosen by on Friday, June 14th. 


  1. My biggest challenge is getting my children to eat enough vegetables. They love fruit, but veggies are not their favorite.

    Debbie: rebbiedeed(at)hotmail(dot)com

  2. YIKES,I am guilty of saying and doing all the "don't" listed here... I really need this book for the sake of my 9 year old daughter! Thanks for this post!

  3. Sure-fire way to get my guy to eat anything is to include a dipping dish of Annie's organic ketchup on the side. I can't say his choices appeal to me (broccoli, carrots, muffins, etc all dipped in ketchup), but it does get him to eat just about everything that touches his plate!

  4. I would love to win a copy of this book! My baby hasn't entered the 'picky' stage yet so our biggest issue currently is working out what to feed him and whether he has food allergy or intolerances.

  5. I am 100% guilty of all those "No Nos" listed above when it comes to my youngest. I knew I was bad but not that bad. Help!!!

  6. I just tried to leave a comment about how my son is too opinionated these days when it comes to good. Hopefully this goes through!

  7. AnonymousJune 12, 2013

    HELP! This is the biggest cry for help. My almost 8 year old won't eat meat, vegetables, eggs. The list is endless of the things he won't eat! He only eats yogurt and pizza because I've allowed him to get away with it since he has been off baby food at age 2! I'm a terrible mother! I've tried everything! I'm an enabler. Daneille

  8. My biggest difficulty is getting my 3 year old to try anything new.

  9. We have a winner!!! #5, Holly Wells, you have won the copy of Fearless Feeding!! Congratulations, and I hope this inspirational read helps you feel like you're on track to keeping mealtimes sane-- and maybe even {dare I say it}-- FUN!!!


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