By Mindy Andher, registered dietitian

Conquering DinnertimeThe dinnertime battle: If you have children, you know what I am talking about. As parents, we strive to prepare wholesome, nutritious food and have high hopes that our children will eat it with a smile, and maybe even ask for seconds. But instead, you may hear, “Can I have chicken nuggets instead?”

So how do you enlighten a picky child? How do you avoid the dinner time battle?

Children’s eating patterns can change daily, including the quantity of food they eat. Also, they may need to try a food 15-20 times before they will actually eat it and like it. As a parent, your job is to decide what is available to eat, when to eat it and where to eat. Your child, on the other hand, gets to decide whether to eat what is available and how much of it to eat. The battle comes when these responsibilities are not in order.

Do a good job with feeding. Have regular meals and structured snacks so your child can be hungry, but not starved at mealtime. Have family meals, and make those meals a pleasure and a privilege, not a chore. To keep meals positive, don’t pressure your children to eat.

  • Teach them to say “no, thank you,” rather than “Yuck!” Have them leave the table if they behave badly.
  • Be family friendly with meals. Pair unfamiliar foods with familiar ones and not-yet-liked foods with liked ones. Don’t make a separate meal for a picky eater.
  • Be sure to put one or two foods on the menu that your children ordinarily will eat. Bread and milk are good options.
  • Let your children pick and choose from what you put on the table, even if they eat only bread and milk.
  • Teach your children to use their napkins to get food back out of their mouths if they discover
    they don’t want to swallow.

Avoid feeding errors.

  • Failing to have structured meals and snacks and/or letting your children eat or drink (except for water) whenever she wants between meal or snack times.
  • Talking about your child’s food likes and dislikes
  • Limiting the menu to foods your children readily accept.
  • Putting pressure on their eating.

For more information about helping children learn positive eating habits (and for research regarding the advice in this article), see Ellyn Satter’s book, Child of Mine: Feeding With Love and Good Sense, published at