Picky Eating STINKS.

Picky Eating STINKS.

Especially when you’re committed to feeding your family REAL food.
After planning, prepping and cooking a delicious wholesome meal, the last thing you need is a child who refuses to eat dinner. That, my friends, is MADDENING. But, it’s reality and it happens in more households than not.

In fact, some studies designed to assess the prevalence of picky eating among children (which is not perfect for lack of a universally accepted definition) indicate that almost 50% of parents of two year olds believe their child is at least finicky if not downright picky.


But, have no fear peeps.

I’ve got your baaaaacck!! In my professional practice, I support families on transforming picky eating through workshops, live classes and soon a virtual class!

To ease the food refusal stages, you just have to remember the three Ws.  What.  When.  Where.  Your job in the feeding and eating frenzy* is to decide what is being served, when it’s being served and where it’s being served. Your child’s job is to decide if s/he will eat what is being served and how much s/he will eat.  It’s called the “Division of Responsibility” in feeding and eating. Yup, you heard that right. Your child decides if they will eat and how much.

The problems of picky eating and mealtime battles begin when parents inch their way into the jobs of their children and vice versa. In other words, lines get crossed: parents try to decide if and how much their child will eat, and children try to demand what food is being served, when it’s served and where it’s served.

For example, let’s look at the one bite rule. This is the parent-created rule about taking one bite of something new before you refuse to eat it. It seems like an innocent strategy that perhaps is successful sometimes for some families. But, it’s straight up coercion. Coercion leads to all sorts of negative issues when it comes to food and our children. The worst is that your child develops a negative relationship with food consumed against his/her will. And, the tasting and trying of new foods becomes less about his own competency in this area and more about pleasing you.

We all want our children to grow into healthy competent eaters – good thing there’s an evidence based gold standard for doing so. The Division of Responsibility (DOR) was coined by the internationally recognized nutritionist and family therapist, Ellyn Satter. Her work in this field of raising competent eaters goes back 40+ years and has been used by hundreds of thousands of families.

There’s plenty to talk about regarding how to make DOR successful in your home, but I’d like to focus on a strategy to help with the first W.  That is, your job to decide WHAT to serve. The goal to raising healthy, happy children is to serve REAL food. But, it they aren’t eating it, their hunger remains and your nerves are shot from worrying too much.

Strategic foods are the new wine. These foods keep you calm at meal times.

Every child and family member has likes and dislikes for food. If you’re responsible for creating family meals, it’s near impossible to please everyone with every component of the meal. If you try this approach, I’m sure you’ll all be bored of dinner by next week. A strategic food will keep you sane and keep everyone at the table from going hungry. Strategic foods are foods you include in the meal that are sure to please your picky eater.

Now, I’m not suggesting you serve PB&J alongside pastured, roasted chicken for dinner – that would essentially tell your PB&J lovin’ child that he doesn’t have to learn to try new foods and be a competent eater because you’ll always serve him PB&J.  

Strategic foods are foods that your picky child loves, but also are foods that are wholesome (or hopefully as wholesome as possible). They’re foods you know he can fill up on and therefore won’t be whining “I’m hungry” at 9pm when he should be snoozing. These are foods that keep you sane and feeling good that your child is coming to the table to eat a meal and feel nourished.

In my family, strategic foods vary depending on what I’m serving for the meal. My kid is like most and loves carbohydrates. So, if I’m serving burgers (of which he’s finicky about), then I’ll be sure to serve it alongside loads of homemade, baked sweet potato steak fries. If he isn’t interested in the burger, it’s fine with me. I tell him “there’s always something at the table you will enjoy eating. Choose what you like and eat as much as you want.” He’s been known to throw back large quantities of sweet potatoes!

Other times, I’ll serve grass-fed steak which he LOVES and thus it becomes my strategic food at dinner time. I can serve it alongside loads of yummy roasted veggies or raw chopped veggies. If all he eats is steak, well then, he’ll get his protein and have plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. I’ll be well-nourished with all the veggies, not stressed about his belly and he’ll get exposed to a healthy eating role model and lots of opportunity to eat veggies too.

What are your kiddo’s strategic foods? Strategic foods don’t need to be carbohydrates like sweet potatoes. You can serve chopped veggies that your child loves. Pair them with a homemade ranch dressing that’s loaded with good healthy fat from yogurt or coconut.

My strategic foods include a random list: baked sweet potato fries, roasted chicken thighs, grass-fed steak, roasted garlic broccoli, corn tortillas, cucumbers, cooked maple carrots, baked beans, corn on the cob, raw pickles, sunbutter, maple & coconut acorn squash with raisins and more.


Here are a few ideas for you to consider for dinnertime strategic foods.

Of course, every child is different so your list of strategic foods may vary from the list below.

What’s on the menu?

Potential strategic food

Make it REAL and wholesome!



Choose brands with organic corn, water, lime –  perhaps salt and maybe oil. Serve with a healthy fat like coconut oil or REAL butter.



Choose a paleo cornbread recipe that includes coconut flour or seed/nut flour instead of refined grain flour. Slather in healthy fat spread!

Grilled meat and veggies

REAL mac-n-cheese

Peel, spiralize and lightly cook zucchini. Top with REAL cheese, olive oil & nutritional yeast or a cashew cheese sauce, depending on your food intolerances.

Pot roast

Cheesy potatoes

Use REAL cheese or nutritional yeast & olive oil for dairy free. These babies may go fast if you cut them up like baked french fries!

Baked or grilled fish

Skewered veggies or grilled pineapple

For veggies, cover in olive oil. Make sure you’ve got enough to fill them up since fruit and veggies lack enough fat or protein.

It’s time to take the stress out of mealtimes once and for all. Start adding those strategic foods to your menu! It only takes a little ..


A.C.T. (Action Changes Things): 

So, you’ve got a finicky eater?
Which wholesome, nourishing strategic foods can you start to include at mealtimes to help your child (or spouse!) become a competent eater?
Are you including strategic foods now? What are they?


I’d love to hear from you – tell me about your experience in the comments.

To life, love, and REAL food, 

Danielle Shea Tan
Certified Health Coach, MBA
Co-President getREALforkidsTM

*Note: If your child has handicaps or other major medical issues, the DOR method can still be used but may require modifications for your family dynamic. Please seek guidance from a qualified nutrition professional.



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