The Scoop on Food

Stop Calling Your Kids "Picky"

Putting the "picky" label on kids doesn't help—and may even make picky eating worse.

picky eater Eric Audras/Getty Images
I knew I had done something right when my younger son turned to me at the age of five and asked, "Mommy, what does picky mean?"

What I'd done right: I'd never called him "picky." And that's certainly not because he didn't exhibit some of the classic picky-eater tricks, like loving chicken one week and hating it the next, eating little more than a lick of ketchup for dinner, or balking at his meal because it had a sprinkling of parsley on top.

In fact, both of my kids could certainly have been labeled picky at different times in their lives. Maybe some people would still call them picky. But I don't. I use the term "picky eating" a lot in my work. It's a catchall term for common behaviors and something parents instantly understand. But I've never called my kids picky—and I don't think you should either.

Why? For starters, labeling your child as anything isn't a good idea, because you're narrowly defining them. Who wants to be limited that way? And calling your child "picky" doesn't give either of you much hope. The picky label tells your child, "You're afraid of trying new foods" and "We don't expect you to try new foods." That wouldn't encourage me to branch out beyond chicken nuggets either.

Believe me, I'm familiar with the kind of dinner table frustration that makes you want to throw your hands in the air and mutter, "Ugh, you're so picky!" But next time you're tempted to do that, resist. Instead, here are some other ideas for what to say next:

  • "That's okay if you don't want to try it. There are other foods on the table if you'd like to eat those."
  • "That's okay, maybe next time you'll want to try it."
  • "You don't have to try it. Want to hear something silly that happened to me today?"

All of these diffuse any possible tension at the table, squash any potential power struggles, and communicate to your child that she's accepted and welcomed at the table.

And you never know: Maybe your child isn't even that picky after all. Some common problems can actually make your kids seem pickier than they actually area (find out what they are). Also, keep in mind that the behaviors around garden variety picky eating are normal, and most school age kids will start to outgrow many of them and start expanding their diet. Iif you're worried about your child's eating, read What To Do When Picky Eating Is Extreme).

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook Twitter Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.