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5 things your picky eater wishes you knew

Sep. 4, 2013 at 10:42 AM ET

Few things are more frustrating for a parent than spending time and money to prepare a home-made, nourishing meal, only to have your picky eater refuse to try it, yet again. If your child’s diet is limited to chicken nuggets or pizza, fear not. Dr. Deb Kennedy, a pediatric nutritionist and author of the new book The Picky Eating Solution, has spent 20 years studying child nutrition and went straight to the source – kids. According to Dr. Deb, here are the top five things your picky eater wishes you knew.

Dear Mom and Dad, 

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It takes kids about a dozen tries to learn to like a new food.

It is time that we had “the talk”. Not that talk, I am too young for that. I am talking about the food talk. I don’t get why you are so impatient with me at the table. Why do you expect me to eat things that look like leaves and little trees (really little trees) and things that used to have eyeballs on them? I need to let you know who you are dealing with here.

1. First off, don’t put me in charge. I’m just a kid – I don’t know what I’m doing. If you are going to put chicken nuggets, sweet potatoes and broccoli in front of me and think I will willingly choose that green funny thing on my plate, well you will grow old and gray before that happens. (If you didn’t know that broccoli was a super food and was healthy for you, would you want to eat it? I didn’t think so.) You need to encourage me and hold me accountable. It’s OK to tell me I can’t have dessert unless I eat some veggies. That is the only way I will learn.

2. You tell me to be careful of strangers and yet you want me to meet a new food and put it in my mouth before you even give me a chance to know it. You know me better than anyone. Don’t you remember all the times I hid under your skirt when you wanted me to shake your friend’s hand, your friend who I didn’t even know? I am shy when anything new comes into my world. Please give me time to get comfortable with peas before you ask me to put these mushy round green balls on my tongue. That means allowing me to “play” with my food -- touch it, smell it, even lick it.

3. Just because I tried one bite of a new food doesn’t mean that I am now all of a sudden going to eat a whole serving for you. Didn’t you read the magazine article? It said it takes us kids a dozen tries to learn to like a new food. I will take even longer than that because I am slow when it comes to accepting new things. Remember how long it took me to get used to the new babysitter and kindergarten? To be safe, I would say you should chill out and give me 15 tries before expecting me to eat half a cup of green beans.

4. Why do you assume that I can sit still for 20 minutes to eat my dinner? That is a very long time and my body can’t do that. My body needs to move. How about this? You let me play for 1 minute and I will sit and eat for 3 minutes. You can increase the time slowly until I get used to sitting still to eat my entire meal. Don’t worry, I checked; I don’t have ants in my pants although it feels like it sometimes. My legs just need to move. I can’t help it so train me well; I will need this skill for school.

Dr. Deb Kennedy
Dr. Deb Kennedy

5. Finally, how do you expect me to eat when you are rushing around like a chicken without a head, getting dinner on the table, talking on the phone, while the dog barks and the TV blares? I can’t concentrate or calm down enough to eat when there is chaos happening all around me. I also don’t like eating by myself, so please sit down and ask Daddy to join us too, at least some of the time. I’ll let you know what crazy and confusing things happened to me today. I just want time with you. Can you do that for me?

Thanks, Mom and Dad. I’m glad we had the talk. Now, what’s for dinner?

Dr. Deb Kennedy is a pediatric nutritionist with 23 years of experience in the field and the author of the newly released book The Picky Eating Solution. She has worked with both Yale and Columbia Universities, and has developed programs for some of the industry’s luminaries such as Dr. David Katz and Dr. Mehmet Oz. For tips and nutrition advice follow Dr. Deb on Facebook.