Picky Eating at Lunch

The following is #3 in a 5 part series on helping children become more adventurous eaters.

Parents tell me that lunch is typically the best meal of the day for picky eaters – meaning they’ll eat “something”. Often that’s because 1) They skipped breakfast and are starving; 2) They get the same foods every day for lunch and/or 3) They eat best when in front of the TV or in the car between activities.

“But, at least they’re eating,” parents tell me. I understand, I do! However, if the goal is to help a child become a more adventurous eater, then the tactics above will backfire. Over time, try the following 3 strategies instead:

  1. Create a Hunger Schedule, not a Hunger Strike. We talked about the importance of hunger in yesterday’s post. It’s worth repeating because it’s crucial to success. This does not mean that if you let a kid get hungry, he’ll eat anything. But, if a child is not hungry, he is very unlikely to try a new food. Too hungry and kids gobble up just their favorite comfort foods, because they are too cranky to consider any other options. Starving is a bad time to try anything new.
  2. Present one New Food on His Plate (with the familiar favorites). If he fusses about it, be calm and concise and say very matter-of-factly: “Yep, we’ve all got carrots on our plates today.” Then, move on to a new topic. Say it once and don’t revisit it, no matter how much he tries to protest. Just learning to accept the presence of the food is the first step for many kids. If the topic turns to learning about carrots and he informs you, “Hey, these are what Bugs Bunny eats!” then join in and come up with every fun fact you can think of:
    • Did you know that the greens on carrot tops were once used to decorate the hats of royalty?
    • Spiderman eats carrots so he can see better in the dark. He told me so.
    • I can crunch this carrot louder than your father – listen…CRUNCH!!!
  3. Sit with Your Child, facing him, whenever possible. Eating in front of the TV or staring out a car window with food from the drive-thru is at times, just a part of our lives. But, the goal is to learn about new foods, rather than be distracted from what we are eating. Ever been to a movie theater, huge tub of popcorn in your lap, and then been astonished that you ate it all? I doubt that if you had that tub in front of you while sitting at the table that you would have eaten the whole thing. Yes, a child will eat more volume when distracted, but there is no learning taking place for the long term goal: creating an adventurous palate and a child who loves to try new foods.

How do you feel if your child eats the same food for most lunches? Would you like to expand to other options, or are the same few choices okay for you and your family? I would love to know your thoughts – it helps me to hear from parents, thank you!

Tomorrow’s post: Do you open your child’s lunchbox after school, only to find he barely ate anything?  Visit tomorrow to learn strategies for filling your kids belly FAST before the recess bell rings.

Published on: April 10, 2013
About the Author
Photo of Melanie Potock
Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP is a certified speech language pathologist, a national speaker on the topic of picky eating, and the author of the award winning parenting book, Happy Mealtimes with Happy Kids: How to Teach Your Child About the Joy of Food!
Get Dr. Greene's Wellness RecommendationsSignup now to get Dr. Greene's healing philosophy, insight into medical trends, parenting tips, seasonal highlights, and health news delivered to your inbox every month.
No comments yet. Start the conversation!
Add your comment