4 Sanity Saving Tips for Helping and Dealing with Picky Eaters

Dealing with picky eaters can be incredibly frustrating! Get these 4 foolproof tips to keep your patience and sanity. Plus tips for picky eaters!


While I was pregnant with my first child, I, like other expectant mothers, imagined what color hair my baby would have, what his temperament would be like, and how big he would be. I’m sure, unlike other mothers to be, I thought about what kind of eater my son would be. Strange, right? Well, not for me, as a pediatric OT, I had worked with many families dealing with picky eaters and other feeding challenges with their children. Even though I didn’t have children at the time, the stress of those situations was palpable.

I was extremely diligent throughout my son’s first year, as I introduced solids, taught cup drinking, and transitioned him to table foods. As I carefully followed the therapeutic advice I had dispensed to families over the years with my own son, I watched him blossom into a good, hearty eater. I was relieved and happy that the strategies I dolled out worked.

I got pregnant again when my oldest was only 12 months old. Needless to say, it was a different kind of pregnancy with much less time for wondering what kind of eater my little bambino would be. I’m not sure I ever thought about it. Of course, the hectic-ness of my life escalated dramatically after my second child was born and as I approached the feeding milestones, I gave them much less thought, too. I had taken it for granted that he too would be a good, hearty eater. After all, I was doing everything the same.
When I introduced solids, they got off to a slow start. I knew it was a red flag, but I also knew he had time. We would keep working at it, I would be patient. Then, when he turned 9 months old, he got a horrible stomach virus that caused him to violently throw up for several days. I knew that could be trouble for his feeding, making the problem even worse. (See Why Kid’s Don’t Eat to learn why)
I was hopeful that it would just be a few days, or maybe a week to get us back on track after his illness, not that eating was going that great in the first place. Well, it took 3 months, and they were a long three months. I was now in the same shoes as so many of the parents that I had helped.
No problem though, this is my thing, it is what I do… Wrong! I was shocked by how frustrated, desperate, and anxious I felt about my child that won’t eat.
It was consuming me.

Why is Dealing with Picky Eaters so Hard for Parents?

As parents, we instinctively want to feed our children. It is the food they eat that helps keep them healthy, growing… alive. When they don’t eat, we get worried for their well-being and so we try harder. Many parents, like myself, start to put a lot of effort and thought into meal time. Then, multiple times a day, the moment of truth arrives, “Are they going to eat?”  We are already wondering, sitting on the edge of our seat. Hoping.
Dealing with picky eaters is hard.
Many, many, many times, my son did not eat or ate very little, despite all of the effort I had put into preparing it. It was disruptive to our family meal as he would cry and whine to get out of his high chair. My 2 year old used all of this distraction to his advantage and his eating started to slide. It was incredibly frustrating and I just wanted to give in and let him live on graham crackers. There were so many moments when I felt like I had no control over the situation and after a week or two my patience had run out.
As an OT, I knew that I had to be calm and keep the meals as stress free as possible for him to make any progress. Yet, as a mom, I was spent. I was at the end of my rope.
I muddled through in this state for longer than I should have. I was feeling desperate and struggled to exude patience as my son turned his face away or threw food on the floor time after time. Finally, one night at dinner, tears of frustration were on the verge of spilling over. I excused myself from dinner and went into our entry way and cried. I said a prayer and started to count my blessings. This immediately re-focused me, enough to get through the rest of that dinner, with my children being non the wiser. If you aren’t spiritual, focusing on a positive memory, singing on a song, or reciting a poem may be helpful.
When I was alone feeding the kids, I made sure they were safe in their chairs and would step outside of the room briefly and count to 10. It was very difficult to stay patient and I certainly had moments when I didn’t. So, I just kept practicing.
As I was practicing patience, my son slowly (very slowly, actually) started to eat better. I would see a break through here and there and let myself get excited about those small accomplishments.  That helped in sustaining my patience and keeping my stress down.
I stuck to my game plan, having one is critical to make progress and maintain patience. At the same time, I was flexible in breaking my own rules about meals and eating when I needed to.
I am thrilled to say that at 13 months, my baby is a good, hearty eater… most of the time.

How to Be Patient when Dealing with Picky Eaters

Now you know my story. Does it sound familiar?

As you read through the last part of my story, there were a few strategies I used to not only be patient, but to stay sane. You can use them in your home, when dealing with picky eaters:

1. Step out of the room BEFORE your child see’s you cry, roll your eyes, or scream into a pillow. Take a few minutes to do whatever will help you calm down. For me, it was letting the tears out when I needed to, saying a prayer, and counting to 10. Taking deep breaths, focusing on something positive, or putting on some relaxing music are other tools you can you use too. Find more tips for patience here.

2. Have a plan for your picky eater! A huge reason I was able to be patient was because I knew what I needed to do for my son. I know that may not be your situation because parents aren’t often told how to help picky eaters, and if they are, it’s a random tip that doesn’t really apply. If you feel you don’t know where to begin, come get a seat in my free workshop: 3 Keys to Turn Around Picky Eating. What you’ll learn there will give you exactly what you need to know to have a picky eating plan of your own.

3. Change your perspective. When our kids don’t eat, we often ask ourselves, “Why are they being so difficult? Why won’t they just eat?” But, if we stop thinking about how difficult our child is and instead think, “My child isn’t being difficult they’re having a difficult time,”  it can give us the change in perspective we desperately need to suddenly and immediately have an abundance of patience.

4. Practice. It won’t look perfect. You’ll lose your cool at times, but don’t give up. Go back to the two strategies above and practice again. And, again. If progress is slow, trust that you’re getting somewhere, it’s just taking time. I know that’s easier said than done. This article on “trusting your turtle” is a gem if you need some help on that perspective!

5. Seek out more help if you feel like you aren’t seeing any progress. Some kids do need something extra called feeding therapy, you can read all about it in that link. You may even qualify for a therapist to come right to your home for free if you live in the states and have a child under 3. To find out more details, head to how to get early intervention.


Want More Tips for Picky Eaters?

Boy are you in the right place! I don’t want to overwhelm you, so let me pick my best resources for you, because I’ve got a lot:

I would love to hear how you practice patience when your kid doesn’t eat. Between two kids under 3, we still have our share of “trying” meals. (Update: now three kids, we still have some challenging meals).
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You might need these comforting words again on another day…


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