Avoiding picky eating

Girl with hand on mouth refusing to eat

The DOR breaks down the feeding relationship between parent and child and allows your child to take the lead and follow her natural ability to eat and grow in a way that’s right for her.

Research shows that families who follow the DOR are more likely to have children who are competent eaters, along with a host of other benefits including children who:

  • Have a positive and healthy relationship with food and eating
  • Eat the amount that is right for her body
  • Indicate how she wants to be fed as she grows and develops
  • Learn to eat food from the family table
  • Behave appropriately at mealtimes

So how do we get there? The concept behind the DOR is simple:

In infancy: parents determine what the child eats (breastmilk or formula), while the child determines the where, when and how much.

As your baby transitions to solid foods: parents determine what the child eats as well the when and where, while the child determines how much to eat and even whether to eat the food that is offered.

To break it down further, parents are responsible for making food choices and preparing foods (without catering to likes and dislikes). Parents should keep mealtimes positive and relaxed and model appropriate mealtime behavior, reflecting your own family values and traditions. Parents should offer foods consistently at regular times from day to day, but not between regular meal and snack times except for water.

Patience from parents is key here as you allow your child to decide how much or how little her body needs.

Meanwhile, the child is responsible for determining the amount of food she needs at a given meal or snack time. In this way, children should also learn to eat the foods their parents eat and behave age-appropriately at meal times.

Following the DOR can often ease much of the anxiety parents often feel when feeding their kids and foster relaxed and happy meals.

What to Do

Use the DOR consistently

In addition to fostering healthy eating habits, sticking to the DOR principles will help your child know what to expect when it comes to eating.

Establish age-appropriate meal and snack patterns

Introducing solids can be different for different babies. Some babies are eager for opportunities to eat solids, while others take time to come around to try new food consistencies and flavors. This is entirely normal.

As your child works her way up to 3 meals per day (often by 12 months), try to keep mealtimes consistent. The same goes for snacks.

Make smart food choices for your child

Offer a variety of wholesome foods at meal and snack times.

Emphasize vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy proteins – for the entire family.

Don’t cater entirely to likes and dislikes

Offer a variety of foods knowing that sometimes a favorite will be on the menu and other times not.

Include something familiar

Babies and children often accept new foods when paired with foods they already know and like. So when you’re meal planning, make sure to include at least one food each family member accepts (this can be as simple as placing whole grain bread on the table alongside your new main dish entrée).

However, avoid offering alternatives for the main dish as this may send the message that you don’t expect your child to learn to like new foods.

Trust your child’s intuition (unless there’s a known feeding issue)

Trust that your child will eat what she needs and allow her to have as much or as little of the foods you offer. Don’t worry about your child occasionally skipping a meal or snack altogether. As long as you offer foods at consistent times from day to day your child will have plenty of opportunities to get the nutrition she needs.

Encourage your child to try new foods but don’t pressure her

Studies show that pressuring children to eat “healthy” foods such as vegetables can backfire. Let your child choose what she wants from the foods you put on the table (or in your baby’s case, on the tray). It’s perfectly fine (and normal) if your child only eats one or two of the foods you offer.

As you serve different foods at the family table, encourage everyone to have a taste, but reassure them that they don’t have to, there will be other opportunities!

For more information on picky eating, please visit our Picky Eating Hub.