Some researchers on kids and eating divide picky eating into two categories: Passing and Persistent. Here’s a simple way to tell whether your child’s picky eating might be the passing type or persistent type.

The majority of children who consume 30 or more foods are usually considered to be in the more common “Passing Pickiness” category. Passing pickiness includes food jags, refusals and other difficulties which may change over time.  Sometimes, a young child’s eating habits change in response to family dynamics such as the arrival of a newborn.  The stages of Passing Picky eaters are charmingly illustrated in the children’s book Bread and Jam for Francis by Russell Hoban. Francis goes through a period of only eating bread and jam. Her mother’s patient response permits Francis to transition to the family’s usual foods.

Children who consume 20 foods or less make up the much smaller group referred to the “Persistent Picky” eaters. Persistent pickiness tends to be based on physical factors such as oral motor sensitivities caused by premature birth, autism spectrum disorders and genetic predispositions to some flavors. Parenting a child who eats very few foods constantly challenges parents and professionals.  Ask your pediatrician for a referral for persistent problems. Mary Ann Huberman’s children’s book, The Seven Silly Eaters provides a light-hearted but accurate take on parenting persistently picky eaters. The mother in this story displays epic patience!


Simple and easy

Here’s a basic mindful eating guide for parenting around food: Parents provide, children decide.* This approach can open doors between you and your child at mealtime.

Pausing helps everyone

It’s important for us as parents to pause when children challenge our patience.  Take a few breaths before reacting or saying something. And even if we lose patience, children often forgive our missteps when they see that a parent’s patience and kindness has returned, and they give us something wonderful in return.

Nearly 70 years of research supports pausing under a variety of technical terms. Or, as my mother said, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

Children copy their parents.

Parents who enjoy their meals, keep to meal schedules, and do not bring their own technology to the table, provide a skillful model.   When we as parents function mindfully while eating, children absorb this behavior naturally.  The key awareness is to let children eat in peace. Parents who are calm and caring help children feel safe. Pushing food on children can activate hormones that suppress their appetite.

Three Facts That Support Pausing

  1. A clean bill of health from your pediatrician means a lot. It reassures you that you child is not going to starve.
  2. A child’s appetite can be affected by such things as these: too much juice, anticipating an event or a special person’s return from school or work, unspoken worries, or even a mild cold We may never know the reason for the refusal.
  3. Some research finds that some kids need up to 25 tries before trying a new food. This can take even longer in my experience.

Two more ideas —                                      

  • Enjoy your own food and conversation. Many little kids may eat best when parents calmly sit with them.
  • Fun goes a long way with little kids. See ME-CL blog post: (add hyperlink, please;)

Richard Kahn, USA

*See Ellyn Satter’s How to Get Your Child to Eat

Do you have a child who is a picky eater? What helps you stay calm? Do you have a tip to share?

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