How to cope with children who are picky eaters

Broccoli (90.7 percent water content)
Broccoli (90.7 percent water content) (iStock/motorolka)

MIAMI – Does your child create chaos at mealtime? Refusing to eat or only eating certain foods? Thousands of parents struggle with picky eaters. What should you do and when is it time to get professional help? 

Amir Similien absolutely loved pizza and peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, but something changed at the age of 2.

"The only thing he would take was PediaSure," Amir’s mom, Tashara, explained. "That’s all that he would want. That’s all he ate for about a year."

His parents frantically tried everything to get him to eat. Nothing worked.

“We didn’t know where to go with it and we just felt confused,” said Amir’s dad, Schiller.

“I would say most children go through some sort of picky phase," said Dr. Roseanne Lesack. "Similar to how children at that stage also have the same shirt that they really like or dress that they love.”

Lesack said the biggest and most common mistake parents make is giving up too easily.

“Parents get in this cycle, oh they don’t like it so I’m not going to offer it, and then they don’t get the exposure, so they’re not going to like it,” she said.

Lesack said you should keep offering new foods, but start small. Really small. 

“Have them take literally the size of a bite of rice, just to get them over that fear of the unknown,” she said.

If your child refuses to eat anything from an entire food group, or just one thing, it may be time to call in a professional.

“If you really can count on your two hands the ten foods that your child will accept, that’s concerning,” Lesack said.

Amir is making progress at a pediatric feeding disorders clinic at Nova Southeastern University.

“We’ve seen a change once he allowed her to put the spoon in his mouth,” Amir's dad, Schiller, said. 

Amir’s parents are encouraged. He’s eating applesauce and yogurt. Now, they worry about other parents facing the same dinner table disasters.

“First and foremost, it’s not your fault," said Amir's mother, Tashara. "Don’t blame yourself and seek professional help."

If a child is extremely picky, Lesack purées their food in the clinic. She said it’s harder for kids to spit out and they get some exposure to the flavor.

Contributors to this news report include: Janna Ross, Producer; Roque Correa, Editor and Judy Reich, Videographer.