Why You Should Never Call Your Picky Eater a "Picky Eater"

Parents know not to call a child, "The Dumb One." But "Picky Eater" gets a pass.

Posted Jun 23, 2016

Source: photographee/depositphoto

How many times has your child heard you say, "Bobby is a picky eater?" This is identity-shaping talk. In the scheme of things, this might seem like a small detail, but there is a lot to a label. Shape your children's identities and you limit or constrain how they see themselves. That's why I'd like to start a movement to eliminate the label, "Picky Eater."

Maybe kids who don't eat a wide range of foods could have picky eating. Maybe they could be going through a picky eating phase. Or even temporarily food challenged. (I know, these aren't the most elegant expressions. If you can think of something better, let me know.)

Here's the point: We don't label kids with short hair as "short-haired" kids because we expect the condition, short-hair, to change. We do, however, think of kids with red hair as redheads because hair color is relatively permanent—at least in childhood.

  • Johnny is not athletic.
  • Sarah is not smart.
  • Jeremy is not funny.

We know it's wrong to label kids this way. But Suzie is a picky eater? That gets a pass.

It is easy for thoughts to become reality. I see this happen all the time. I meet parents, teachers, and pediatricians who think of a child as a picky eater and then that child adopts that identity.

  • I'm a picky eater.
  • I don't eat that kind of food.
  • Other kids try stuff but I don't.
  • I'll eat that when I'm older.
  • Where's the child-friendly food? That stuff is for grownups.

Labeling a child as one thing makes that trait the child's dominant characteristic. All the other traits then fade into the background. It's hard to change your identity once it is established. (I was the pretty one, not the smart one.)

The widespread acceptance of the term picky eater is detrimental to our children's eating habits. Kids get locked in, their condition becomes reified. And then, how they eat today becomes how they eat tomorrow. Change becomes very difficult. Talk to any adult who used to be a picky eater. They almost always have a tale or two to tell.

One thing you can do to change how your child eats is to talk about picky eating as a temporary condition. Letting children know that just because they have picky eating right now, this is not who they are is a powerful lesson.

  • Put the person before the disability/condition.
  • Emphasize the value and worth of the individual.
  • Recognize that the everyone can change.

Then, start teaching kids the skills they need to eat better. Begin by setting aside the goal of getting kids to eat new foods. Instead, think of exploring new foods as a science experiment. Work on getting children comfortable exploring new foods in terms of taste, texture, aroma, appearance, temperature and, yes, even sound. Comfortable explorers turn into adventurous eaters.

~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

Dina Rose
Source: Dina Rose

 2016 Dina Rose, PhD, is the author of the book, It’s Not About the Broccoli: Three Habits to Teach Your Kids for a Lifetime of Healthy Eating (Perigee Books). She also writes the blog It's Not About Nutrition.