The picky eater guide: Part 5. Special circumstances, vitamins, a backup plan, and a muffin bonus

The Pediatric Insider

© 2012 Roy Benaroch, MD

We’ve been talking about how to handle mealtimes to help prevent and deal with food pickiness—but without really concentrating on getting the child to somehow eat more of the foods he doesn’t want. That’s because 1) you can’t actually make a child eat something he doesn’t want to eat, and 2) even if you could, it’s still not a good idea. We’re trying to develop healthy habits to last a lifetime, and we’re no longer really worried about how many brussels sprouts are consumed at an individual meal (if you are still worried about that, start over.)

There are some special situations that ought to be mentioned. This discussion has been about developmentally and neurologically normal children. If your child has autism or other developmental challenges, some modifications of these instructions may be needed (though philosophically, it’s even more important to reinforce and teach independent feeding skills to children with developmental disabilities.) Likewise, some medical problems can lead to problems with eating that are beyond the scope of these posts. If your child is not neurologically typical, you ought to get more-specific instructions from your pediatrician or other health expert who knows your child well.

One issue that seems difficult to work around is parent’s worry that a lack of vegetables will lead to serious health problems from vitamin deficiencies. As it turns out, so many foods in the USA are fortified with vitamins that deficiencies are almost unheard of—but still, there’s a worry, and it’s led to a proliferation of overpriced, overhyped supplements that supposedly replace fruit and vegetable intake. Don’t fall for the advertisements. If you can’t help but worry that your kids aren’t getting vitamins, have them take an inexpensive generic multivitamin every day. There is zero benefit to any premium or expensive vitamin—a chemical is a chemical, and your child’s body doesn’t care how much you paid for it.

There also is an understandable need for some parents to have some kind of “back up plan” when a meal completely falls apart. As I’ve said, I think it’s fine for a child to choose anything they want off the table—so if a meal includes spaghetti/meatballs/sauce/broccoli/garlic bread, and all the child wants is plain spaghetti or plain bread pulled off the back of the garlic bread, it’s OK with me. Still, it can be difficult for many parents to let a meal go by without Junior eating much. So, if you’re one to worry, you can offer the following “standing rule”: IF Junior wants to, he can go get a backup meal himself.

The backup meal must be a single item that’s always available, and it should be something the child can prepare himself. A bowl of cereal is a good choice, or plain bread with butter. The backup should be one simple thing, and it’s crucial that mom or dad not have to be the one to get up and deal with it. That would ruin the parents’ meal, and that’s not fair. I’m not sure a “backup” is even needed—kids will in fact eat when they’re hungry—but if parents feel that they need a backup, that’s the way to do it. By the way, we’re talking reasonably-healthy cereal, here. Not one with little marshmallows.

This series started with a question about picky eating, and ended up becoming something much more: a short guide to how to feed your children and your family in a way that will help your children make good food choices for the rest of their lives. At the same time, the “family” meal plan, with separate jobs for parents and kids, should help make mealtimes more enjoyable and fun for everyone. Remember: picky isn’t the problem, and your job is not to get your kids to eat more! Now go cook something fun and enjoyable with your kids, like our family favorite: Banana-Chocolate Chip Muffins!

  1. Cream together 1 stick butter and 1 cup sugar
  2. Mash into the bowl 3 over-ripe bananas
  3. Mix in: 2 eggs, ¼ cup yogurt, 2 tsp vanilla extract, 1 tsp baking soda, 1 tsp baking powder, pinch salt, 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour, a good handful of chocolate chips (cook’s helpers get to eat a few)
  4. Pour batter into about 18 muffin cups. Bake @ 350 for 16-20 minutes. Enjoy with milk!


The picky eater guide: The whole enchilada:

Part 1. What’s the problem?

Part 2. The “Don’ts”

Part 3. The Rule

Part 4. The jobs of parents and kids

Part 5. Special circumstances, vitamins, and a muffin bonus

Explore posts in the same categories: Nutrition

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5 Comments on “The picky eater guide: Part 5. Special circumstances, vitamins, a backup plan, and a muffin bonus”

  1. Awesomemom Says:

    Hmm never thought about adding yogurt to muffins, interesting. I will have to try this recipe.


  2. anon-a-mom Says:

    Thanks, I love these posts! My husband and I came up with a plan very similar to your suggestions when our twins were first starting to eat solid foods. We decided to try to never bribe, cajole, plead with the kids about food – either quantity wise or choice wise. I try to offer a variety of healthy food at mealtime – including at least one thing that I know everyone likes – and then let them decide what and how much they want to eat.

    So, our twins are now 3.5. One will eat anything and everything – she’ll eat her brussel sprouts before anything else on her plate. Unfortunately, her sister has not eaten a vegetable since she was 18 months old (unless pumpkin pie counts!). Luckily the veggie hater does eat almost everything else – she loves fruit, dairy, meat, nuts, whole grains – just not veggies.

    I feel like even though one kid doesn’t eat vegetables that we’re still doing ok. I hope that eventually the non-veggie eating kid will realize that that veggies do taste good and will start eating them on her own. I figure it’s my job to try to avoid creating issues around food so when her taste buds mature, she doesn’t have an emotional aversion to the foods she didn’t like as a three year old.

    Here’s hoping this plan works! I guess that even if it doesn’t and she never decides that vegetables are ok – it’s at least avoided a lot of conflict and made mealtime a pleasant time for everyone.


  3. Mom of 2 Says:

    This series has been so helpful! Using these strategies, my kid generally eats better and I’m not stressed out when he doesn’t. Thanks!


  4. Meredith Says:

    Oh my gosh…the banana chocolate chip muffins are a BIG hit in our house! Thanks, Dr. Roy! I think my family members are deliberately not eating bananas, so they get mushy…then proceed to tell me they are ready to be made into muffins. YUMMY (and very simple recipe)!


  5. erq Says:

    Cool, thanks! i´ll include this topic in my blog as well.


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