If you’re dealing with a picky eater, chances are you’ve seen them reject enough lovingly prepared meals to send you over the edge. We’d bet your kiddo is either stuck on a diet of buttered noodles and crackers or fluctuating between gobbling up everything one day and nothing the next. (Really, how could you even think of offering the same sandwich they couldn’t get enough of last week?) So how do you handle picky eating in the moment? What you say (or don’t say) can positively or negatively impact their relationship with food. It’s so easy to slip into the habit of blurting out whatever you can to coax them into eating, but truth be told, these words might do more harm than good. Here are four phrases you should avoid saying to your kids if they’re picky eaters.

1. “If you finish your broccoli, you can have chocolate cake for dessert.”

When parents struggle to get their kiddos to eat anything nutritious, they often resort to negotiation. In these instances, they may offer sweets or desserts as a reward for eating veggies. While bribing your kids might seem like a convenient solution, it’s actually not helpful in the long run. When you resort to bribery, you’re sending a message that sweets are more valuable than vegetables, which isn’t the best way to encourage a healthy relationship with food. Kids usually want what they can’t have, which can lead to unhealthy obsessions, especially if they’re restricted.

Instead: Forget about negotiations and present healthy foods, like veggies, in new and different ways. Also, try to involve your kids in the kitchen.

2. “Eat one more bite and you may be excused from the table.”

In an attempt to ensure that our fussy eaters get some nutrition, we might insist that they finish a certain amount of food before they can leave the table. Yes, it’ll ensure that they’ve had a bit more to eat, but the problem is your kid might not be hungry or may feel satisfied with the few bites they’ve already taken. When you tie leaving the table to finishing a specific amount of food, you’re essentially pressuring your child to eat rather than listen to their own bodies and decide when they feel full.

Instead: Allow kids to determine how much they eat. They’re born with the ability to self-regulate, so let’s nurture their internal sense of hunger and fullness.

3. “Good job for eating your carrots!” 

When your picky eater finally gives something new a try, you’ll be so tempted to sing their praises or do a little happy dance. But while they’ve taken this huge step forward, it’s important to hold back on showering them with praise for eating. We don’t want our kids’ self-worth or confidence to depend on whether or not they ate something. We also don’t want kiddos to think they’re “good” for eating and “bad” for not.

Instead: While we’re proud of their progress, let’s keep the praise to ourselves.

4. “You’re such a picky eater.”

When you’re truly frustrated with your kid’s selective eating habits, you might throw your hands up and exclaim, “Argh, you’re such a picky eater!” Refrain from labeling your child as “picky” or “fussy” to avoid fostering a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a kiddo constantly hears themselves being referred to as “picky,” they might start to believe it. Plus, just because they’ve refused a certain food ten times it doesn’t mean they’ll reject it the 11th time. Kids will be kids, and you never know—they might just surprise you.

Instead: Keep a neutral attitude and provide opportunities for encouragement.

Remember, your kid’s picky eating may feel like the end of the world right now, but in most cases, it’s just a phase—and they’ll be eating your famous, non-beige bolognese sauce in no time. 

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