Picky Eaters: Interview with Betsy Brown Braun

Susie McGee
Betsy Brown Braun talks about picky eaters.

Betsy Brown Braun is a child development specialist, a parent educator, and a multiple birth parenting consultant. With a Masters degree in human development and teaching credentials from Pacific Oaks College, Betsy has over 35 years of experience in early childhood and elementary education and as a parenting educator. Betsy is a frequent speaker and contributor at educational conferences and schools, businesses, and to publications, such as Twins Magazine, Family Circle, and USA Today. Betsy is a regular contributor to KNX news radio on matters of child development. Her expertise has been featured in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. She has been a guest on National Public Radio and has been interviewed on local television. In 2001 Betsy founded, Parenting Pathways, Inc. through which she provides both consultations services and parenting groups. She and her husband have adult triplets, and her new book, Just Tell Me What To Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents was recently released. Betsy kindly took the time to offer tips on dealing with picky eaters.

How can parents encourage their children to eat right?

All parents want to raise their kids to have healthy eating habits. Encouraging children to eat "right" begins with parents eating "right." Eating with your children, modeling healthy eating habits, and eating a variety of foods is the first step. Picky eater parents usually breed picky eater kids. Remember, your children watch everything you do and that includes watching everything you put in your mouth and listening to every word you say about it. The more familiar a child is with a particular food or taste, the more likely she is to eat it. From as early as your pediatrician will allow, offer your child a variety of foods, adding new ones and revisiting old ones. She will experience and become accustomed to a variety of tastes and food textures. Allow your child as much independence with her eating as you can, drippy spoon foods aside. The child who is allowed to feed herself, is more liable to put different foods of all kinds into her mouth.

What can parents do about picky eaters?

If your child is a picky eater, you are in good company! Possibly half of all two and three year olds fall into this category. Isn't it interesting that picking eating comes at the same time that the young child is becoming independent? Often being picky about food is a way of asserting herself, discovering her own power, and feeling big in a world where she otherwise feels small. Remember kids can be fickle in their taste. So don't be surprised if a previously adored food becomes poison at the next meal. As children grow older, when they begin to have control over their worlds in other ways, the pickiness often lessens. So too will their willingness to take a risk with a new food increase. Until then, being a picky eater means nothing more than your child is a picky eater.

Here are some tips for dealing with picky eaters

  • Stop talking about food and stop worrying about it. No comments at all. Just let your child eat what she wants and move on. The more you push, the less likely she will be to try different foods.
  • Don't make food a control issue. You cannot force another person to eat. And I can promise you, you will lose the battle.
  • Use different and small plates. Sometimes a party plate takes the emphasis away from the food.
  • Offer a few choices. Bite size servings of a variety of foods help the child to feel powerful in choosing what to eat for herself.
  • Introduce new foods when your child is definitely hungry. At hungry times she is much more likely to take a risk.
  • Invite "guests" to join you at a meal. Invite a doll or stuffed animal friend to join her for dinner and let your child model how she eats.
  • Be creative in your preparation and serving. Sandwiches cut with cookie cutters, Mickey Mouse pancakes taste especially good.
  • Beware of bribing with dessert. We want our children to have healthy relationships with food. The goal in eating broccoli ought not be to get dessert or watch television.

When should parents begin to worry about a child that is a picky eater?

When your pediatrician tells you that your child is malnourished, then you may begin to worry! There are very few malnourished children here in America. In fact, we have a greater issue with childhood obesity than we do with malnutrition. Most children will eat what they need to eat over the course of 72 hours, the time period over which we view their total food intake.

Should parents give vitamins to their children as supplements?

Each parent has a different idea about vitamins. This topic is one that should be discussed with your pediatrician, whose advice I must assume you respect.

Where can we read more about you?

You can read more about me on either of my websites: Just Tell Me What to Say and Parenting Pathways or best of all, you can buy my book Just Tell Me What To Say: Sensible Tips and Scripts for Perplexed Parents.

Picky Eaters: Interview with Betsy Brown Braun