picky eaters

5 Tips for Easing Mealtime Stress

by Sally on June 18, 2014

Tips for Managing Mealtime at Real Mom Nutrition

Whenever a new mom tells me what a great eater her one year old is, I smile politely and say something encouraging like, “Gee, that’s great!” But I’m actually thinking, “You don’t even know what’s coming!”

Feeding toddlers can be challenging–after all, their growth has slowed (which can lower appetite) and they’re testing out their newfound independence. But stay the course: Continue to offer your child an array of healthy foods because “research shows that when left to make their own choices children will, over time, eat in a way that is nutritionally balanced,” says Dr. Yvonne Gustafson, Ph.D., co-author of the new book Tools For The Toddler Years(You can enter to win a copy of the book in this giveaway that ends Friday.) 

She offers these reassuring pointers that ring true for kids of all ages:

1. Each meal does not have to be nutritionally “perfect.” It is what is eaten over the course of a day—some pediatricians suggest over the course of a week—that matters. So, if on Tuesday your toddler is on a cereal kick, remember that it can be balanced with other essential nutrients on Thursday.

2. Understanding portion size can help you resist the urge to “push” food. In general, a serving size is one measured tablespoon per age of child. How many chunks of green bean can actually fit in a measured tablespoon? Two, maybe three?  When your toddler eats four bites of green bean she has probably eaten an amount appropriate to her age and size. Further, you may find that when portions are kept small it is easier for the child to focus, rather than be distracted by the science of mixing and smearing all the food before them.

3. Understand that your child may have his own internal eating clock. He may love a big breakfast and lighter fare for dinner. Or, he may not be ready for very much food until mid-morning. Noticing and planning your offerings to match your child’s preferences can create a more positive relationship with food.

4. Expect fluctuations. When a child is in a growth spurt everything about serving size and interest in food can shift. Some days it may seem your child packs away more food than you! In the absence of power struggles over food, trust her body to eat what it needs to maintain the energy she needs.

5. Be aware of alternative sources of nutrition. For instance, for the child not yet ready to handle the textures of meat, try mashed up beans or cubes of tofu for protein.

For more parenting tips, check out Your Parenting Matters.

6 Tips for Managing Mealtime at Real Mom Nutrition

Illustration by Greg Bonnell


How to Raise a Successful Eater

Are my kids perfect eaters? No way! Neither am I. (Anyway, there’s no such thing–read: “The Myth of Perfect Eating“). But I do hope my kids don’t follow in my finicky eater footsteps and instead, become what psychologist Dr. Kathleen Cuneo calls “successful eaters”.

Successful eaters don’t have to happily gobble up everything you put in front of them or wax poetic about the nutty undertones of your kale salad. But they’re pleasant at the table, use good manners, and learn to try new foods (read: “The Kind of Eater I Want My Kids To Be“).

How do you raise successful eaters? According to Dr. Cuneo, serving family-style meals that allow kids to help themselves and maintaining a positive vibe at the table go a long way. But you also have to learn how to “combat the craziness” that causes so much stress and turns mealtime into a battlefield.

If the words “stress”, “battlefield”, and “mealtime” seem perfectly natural to you in the same sentence, you may need to combat the craziness. If so, here’s Dr. Cuneo’s three-part prescription–plus how it works for me.

1. Avoid being a short-order cook.

When I was growing up, my kind-hearted mother made me separate dinners who-knows-how-many nights a week. I’m not that nice. I serve one meal at dinnertime. Take it or leave it. But I do make sure there’s something on the table my kids like. If you don’t like the main dish? Fill up on bread and salad. Dig the fish but not the rice? That’s okay. But there’s no PB&J or hot dog waiting in the wings.

2. Keep the faith.

It took me decades to taste certain foods like avocados and beans. Hopefully it won’t take your kids that long–but the point is: Don’t give up. Serving foods in different ways can help too. I made all kinds of fish recipes to “meh” reviews before hitting the jackpot with fish tacos (bonus: now that my kids eat fish tacos, they more willingly eat fish prepped in other ways too).

3. Relax.

I know, this is easier said than done. I wasn’t always calm at the dinner table, especially when Sam stopped eating dinner altogether (unless you call a lick of ketchup “dinner”). But once I relaxed, so did my kids. Once I stopped requiring a taste or a certain number of bites, the fighting stopped. We also developed a strategy that works for us: If Sam rejects his dinner outright, we simply stick it in the fridge to reheat when he comes back 30 minutes later saying he’s hungry (read: “Coming To Peace With A Not-So-Perfect Dinnertime“). If he still doesn’t want it? I focus on the big picture. He typically eats a great breakfast and lunch plus healthy snacks. He won’t become nutrient deficient or keel over from starvation if he misses dinner.

Besides, tomorrow is a new day–and success doesn’t happen overnight.


The Kind Of Eater I Want My Kids To Be

May 6, 2014

I don’t label my kids “good eaters”, just as I’ve never called them “bad eaters”–even when they’ve made me c-r-a-z-y (read “Dinner Drama“). Instead, I want to be able to call them “successful eaters”. I heard the term “successful eater” from psychologist and parent coach Kathleen Cuneo, PhD, who describes a successful eater as someone who, among […]

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6 Ways to Add Fun to Family Dinner

January 15, 2014

  On a recent Sunday, my husband and I were cooking together, and the boys were pretending we were on a cooking show. It extended to dinner time, when they wanted to judge the dish (a new-to-them chili). So we asked them to rate the chili on a scale of 1-5 for various categories like […]

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“Help! My child eats hardly any dinner…then wants a snack 10 minutes later!” Sound familiar?

January 10, 2014

This week, I reached out to readers on my Real Mom Nutrition Facebook page asking for their most frustrating feeding dilemma when it came to their kids–and promised that feeding expert and parent educator Dr. Dina Rose would address one of them on this blog. Dr. Rose, who is full of effective strategies for diffusing […]

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{Giveaway} It’s Not About the Broccoli

January 8, 2014

Three years ago when Sam was a toddler, he went on a strike. A dinner strike to be exact. It went on for months, with Sam sometimes eating no more for dinner than a lick of ketchup or a couple bites of fruit. I nearly lost my mind. (read: “Dinner Drama“). So I got in […]

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The Myth of Perfect Eating

November 19, 2013

This is what happens when my kids get hold of the camera: Me, caught in a moment of mom fatigue, surrounded by piles. Definitely not suitable for posting on Facebook. After all, there’s a reason it earned the nickname “Fakebook”: We put our very best selves on display for the world (or at least our “friends”) […]

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Starter Salads: Teaching My Kids to Love Greens

November 18, 2011

When I first started dating my husband, he didn’t eat anything green, except granny smith apples. (When he reads this, he will indignantly declare, “Also parsley!” but the rest of us know that does not count.) So I started making him salads in tiny bowls: just a few leaves with a whole bunch of croutons […]

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My Picky Eater Recovery

May 25, 2011

There’s a story that’s gone down in family history that ends with my mother pouring a glass of chocolate milk over my head. If you know my mother, you are likely lifting your jaw off the floor because she is the kindest, gentlest woman you ever will meet. But every mom has her breaking point, […]

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Dinner Drama Part 4: Dinner Games (& Other Crazy Tricks That Actually Work!)

April 22, 2011

My mother-in-law has a game she plays with the grandkids when they won’t eat their dinner. “Don’t you eat that broccoli!” she’ll warn in a voice that somehow straddles stern and silly. “Don’t you eat it!” First, the kids giggle hilariously. Then they eat the broccoli. Frankly, I used to think it was all sort […]

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