"We taste and feel and see the truth. We do not reason ourselves into it."
William Butler Yeats

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THTM #21: Food fights (Picky eating)

What is the key message?

  • Children will stop insisting on the same foods over and over if parents ignore their demands.

Who should receive this message?

  • Parents whose child wants to eat only one food item meal after meal.

How can this message be used?

  • Do you remember any foods that you wanted to eat all the time when you were little? What were they?
  • Have any of your children insisted on the same food over and over? How does this make you feel?

Idea for a group:

  • Letís start with the story of two moms. Both mothers face the same challenge but choose to handle it in different ways. Here how mother #1 handles a child who insists on eating only one food item meal after meal. The children in this story love peanut butter sandwiches and insist on eating them every meal for weeks.
  • Here is how Mother #1 handles the situation: (Read the following story.)
Story #1
Child Mother
I want a peanut butter sandwich. You had a peanut butter sandwich for breakfast today and for every meal yesterday. Youíre getting grilled cheese instead.
I want a peanut butter sandwich. I said no. Didnít you hear me?
I want a peanut butter sandwich. Eating the same food everyday for all three meals is not healthy. You need to eat the foods I give you.
I wonít eat anything but a peanut butter sandwich. Then youíll go straight to your room.
I want a peanut butter sandwich. Iíll wonít eat anything else. OK, I will give you a peanut butter sandwich. But you have to eat something different at dinner.
  • How do you think this mom feels about her situation?
  • What do you think will happen at the next meal with this mother and child? What should the mother have done differently?
  • Now, letís see how a different mother handled the same situation. (Read the following story.)
Story #2
Child Mother
I want a peanut butter sandwich. I know you love peanut butter, but doesnít this look good? I made this yummy grilled cheese sandwichÖand I have these delicious apple slices.
I want a peanut butter sandwich. Iíll put your grilled cheese sandwiches and apples here. I bet the apple slices would taste great dipped in peanut butter.
I want a peanut butter sandwich. Why donít you try what you have on your plate? If you donít like it, you donít have to finish it.
I want a peanut butter sandwich. (Ignores demand.)
I want a peanut butter sandwich. Sister Sally, you seem to really like those apple slices. Does the grilled cheese taste good?
I want a peanut butter sandwich. Letís go to the park and play in a little while. Iíll let you climb the slide by yourself today.
  • How do you think this mom feels about her situation?
  • What did Mother #2 do differently to handle the same situation? How do you feel about how she handled this situation?
  • Which child will likely be willing to try a different food at the next meal? Why? Sample responses:
    • Behaviors that get attention continue.
    • Behaviors that are ignored stop.
    • Positive attention to the desired behavior helps end the negative behaviors.
    • Mother acknowledges and praises sister for trying new foods.
    • The child was trying to show his independence and the mother provided another way of being independent. (Allowing the child to climb the slide by himself at the park.)
  • What are some of the ways youíve tried to deal with your childís picky eating?
  • What are a parentís responsibilities when faced with a picky eater?
  • Will children really starve if you donít give into their demands for the same food meal after meal?
  • What are some ways that parents can get children to try new foods?? Sample responses:
    • Encourage, but donít force, kids to try new foods.
    • Offer new foods alongside favorite foods.
    • Offer a small amount of each food on the plate.
    • Keep tryingÖchildrenís preferences change over time.
  • What may happen when parents ignore a problem behaviorólike demanding the same food over and over? Sample responses:
    • The behavior may get worse before it gets better. The child is accustomed to getting attention for the behavior and may temporarily increase it before eventually decreasing it.
    • Eventually, the behavior goes away when attention to it ceases.
  • Why do children ask for the same foods over and over?
  • Why is it a good idea to not make a big deal out of picky eating?
  • Children little control over their lives. The food they eat may be one thing that they can control. What can you do to allow a child to have a part in deciding what to eat?
  • How will you feel when your child tries a new food that youíve been offering for a while? And likes it?
  • What behaviors will you ignore this week?
  • What behaviors will you give positive attention?
  • What is one thing youíll try this week to introduce a new food to your child?


Emotion-Based Messages