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How to Get a Picky Child to Eat Healthier


1. Shift the focus from veggie maniac to DOR 

DOR or Division of Responsibility is a researched method of feeding a child. It outlines the responsibilities of parent and child in the feeding relationship from infant to adulthood. The general premise is that a parent needs to decide WHEN, WHERE and WHAT to provide at a meal and a child decides IF THEY WILL EAT and HOW MUCH of what is provided. Of course as a child progresses from infant, to toddler, to preschooler, to pre-teen, to teen, to young adult the DOR takes a distinct tone, but the premise is the same: there is a shared dynamic of responsibility that aims at shaping the feeding relationship within a child to nurture trust, confidence and autonomy.  

When we put DOR in the context of increasing veggie intake in children, we, as parents, have to move away from “enforcing” eating vegetables –through ineffective trickery, threats, and power struggles– into allowing the child to explore the unpressured possibility of trying, liking (and also disliking) vegetables. The approach does in fact require more patience, but this modality focuses on the long-term goal of helping the child develop a solid, self-defining relationship with food.  

As Registered Dietitian and Family Therapist, Ellyn Satter, who developed DOR, states The goal is not getting-vegetables-into-your-child-right-now. It is supporting your child so she learns to enjoy vegetables for her lifetime. She will learn to eat vegetables and other nutritious food when you follow the Satter Division of Responsibility in Feeding (sDOR) and matter-of-factly eat and enjoy vegetables and other nutritious foods, yourself.” 

This last part “matter-of-factly eat and enjoy vegetables and other nutritious foods yourself” leads us to our number 2 strategy. 


2. Lead by Example  

When it comes to parenting, example is everything. One worthwhile step to improving our kids’ eating habits is to reflect a little on our own: Do I regularly eat vegetables and do I make a point to show delight when eating them?  

Here is where creativity and regular eating together really pays off. If you are one to serve meals for your children but not sit down and eat with them, you are missing a key opportunity to let them acquire good eating habits by mere modelling of your own eating. When you sit and eat exactly what you are providing your children, you will add more zest to the meal. Suddenly you might realize that boring broccoli does taste better with a garlic-dill dip, or that simple salad does perk up with a delicious homemade honey-garlic dressing.  

Many parents cater to children’s food preferences because it’s just too tiring to help them try new foods, and they themselves prefer a different meal altogether. While in the short term this may remove the power struggle within a meal, in the long run, it will be more labor intensive to have to match meals for everyone’s preference (add more than one child to the equation and any parent would go crazy!) Kids learn to eat what parents eat, but they need the regularity of the exposure.  

3. Variety is the spice of life

Variety at the table is one way to tackle eating together as a family while not giving in to making separate meals. It is very advantageous to place food items that you know will be enjoyed by your children. Don’t be afraid to put more than one option per food group, for example, crackers and bread or eggs and peanut butter. The more choice you allow at the table, the more you can stop being the food police. This is especially true for vegetables. Try to have more than one veggie option at every meal, so that if they turn one down, they can maybe try the other. For example, offer salad with dressing and some side celery sticks. 

Adding things they recognize and enjoy to vegetables is another way to add attention and increase variety. For example, melt cheese over cauliflower or stagger fruit wedges in between veggie sticks. If you want your kids to eat veggies, then you got to showcase the rainbow at the meal– color means variety. Daunting perhaps, but a great health investment. For a great place to get ideas, I like Jaime Oliver. Have a look at his veggie creations, super family friendly.  

4. Start early, but if you started late, start now. 

The best time to introduce DOR is when you introduce solids to an infant. This allows you to very slowly over time help the infant acquire the right feeding skills and mindset. The point here is not to fret or get stuck in perfectionism, but to give options and let the child choose from those options. The good news is that even if you start later– closer to the terrible twos or the busy threes– children are very malleable and agreeable to learn if you are patient, aim for a sense of connectedness and respect the possibility they may not eat at all.  

Many clients we see, although frightened of DOR at first, always share how effective it is if you just buy into it.  

When it comes to vegetables specifically, offering options at an early age but letting go of enforcing “veggie completion” at all costs, will result in the trust your child needs to explore freely.  



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