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Setting the Table – Dr. Randy Handles Picky Eaters

picky eater

I’m not just a Mt. Pleasant children’s dentist, I’m also Dr. Dad. Both roles in my life have given me experience with something every parent is familiar with — picky eaters. This is a phase that most children go through, and it’s more about power and control than the food itself. But what if this phase never ends?

From one parent to another, here are a few pointers for parents in this challenging situation.


Children depend on regular schedules. They need some things in their lives to be predictable, as so much of their experiences are new. An important part of that needed structure is a consistent eating schedule. A normal routine for meals and snacks manages expectations and will cut down on unneeded snacks or junk food that interfere with meals.

No Custom Orders

Picky eaters are renowned for their ability to turn parents into short-order cooks. Avoid cooking one meal for adults and another for children. There might be planned exceptions, but giving in to their demands will only encourage them to hold out longer the next time they don’t want to eat their vegetables. They learn that holdouts can get what they want rather than learning to like healthier choices.

Get Them Involved

One of my favorite parenting tricks is giving the illusion of choice. Let kids occasionally make choices among pre-approved options to give them a feeling of control. When we are shopping, kids can help choose fruits and vegetables, the shape of their pasta, or flavors of yogurt, for example. When preparing meals, children can even lend mom and dad a hand. Kids will be more invested in eating a meal that they had a hand in creating.

Treats Are “Sometimes” Foods

Rather than having a zero-tolerance policy on junk food, it may be wiser to teach moderation. Treats aren’t “treats” if they happen every day. They are “sometimes” foods, not for daily consumption. An occasional sweet, candy bar, or junk food isn’t the end of the world, though.

Be a Food Role Model

It might seem obvious, but kids will follow the example of the adults in their lives. Do you follow most of your own rules? If you have “rules for thee, but not for me”, consider modeling the behavior that you want your kids to adopt. It can send a confusing message to children if you enforce healthy eating habits with them but don’t follow your own advice.

Tales From Parents of Picky Eaters

We asked members of the team what their experiences with picky eaters have been. Here’s what they had to say.

picky eater tales

Healthy Eating in Mt. Pleasant

The road to a prolonged picky eater usually begins with a single compromise that is then repeated. You might feel like you’ve lost control, but it’s not too late to change. Be consistent as they go through these new adjustments and you’ll all be on a new routine in no time.

If you have questions about your child’s oral health, call our pediatric practice in Mt. Pleasant to schedule an appointment or a cleaning.

-Dr. Randy Pagenkopf