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Got a Picky Teen? Don’t Give Up. Here’s How.

Is your teenager stuck in her eating habits? Don’t give up!

Here are 10 tips for helping your teenager with picky eating.

Picky eating isn’t just something that affects young kids–and I say that from personal experience. I’m a former picky eater, and I know firsthand that extreme picky eating can eventually feel embarrassing and simply too inconvenient, which is powerful motivation to change (even if that means baby steps).

If you have a picky teenager in your house I hope these tips helps you.

How To Help Your Teenager With Picky Eating

Don’t worry, this isn’t another article about sneaking spinach into brownies, calling broccoli “trees,” a “one bite rule”, or modeling healthy eating!

You’ve probably read dozens of those articles over the years, a book or two about how French kids eat everything, maybe even taken your child to feeding therapies—but your teen is still stuck in their eating patterns.

While your teen will be taking charge of her eating, there are ways parents can still help. Here are ten tips to help your teen improve her relationship with food, support her appetite, address anxiety, feel empowered, stay connected, and learn to eat a wider variety.

Think of your role as more facilitation than actively “helping.”
We know, the article is about helping your teen, but tip one is about realizing that even subtle pressure or encouragement can undermine your teen’s confidence. If you consider what your teen is trying to accomplish and can provide the pieces that make their plan work, then you are facilitating and not pressuring.

Help your teen connect to their motivation.
Many teens are scared they can’t change or feel hopeless since they’ve tried every “trick” in the book.

Talk to them away from mealtime, if they are receptive. What is it about their eating that bothers them? Do they feel their eating limits what they can do?

This kind of conversation may not be able to happen with you right now if you’ve had a lot of conflict around food over the years.

Listen to your teen if they want to talk, respect their silence if they don’t.
Your teen needs to explore this process on their own time and in their own way. Help them fill out their food list.

Try not to get defensive. We know you did the best you could, and we know that picky eating is complicated and there are many factors that contribute to why your teen eats the way they do. They might blame you—it’s what teens often do.

Try not to take it personally.

Be good company at mealtimes.
If you aren’t eating together, ask if they are ready to join you at mealtimes. If they say “no” let them know they are welcome to join you when they are ready.

Try to ignore what or how much they are eating. Make the meal table a place to connect. Do try to be available for family meals if your teen is interested. Breakfast may be a great place to start, or weekend lunch. Be clear that there will be no pressure to eat any foods.

It’s about sharing mealtimes and making the table a place where you connect and spend time together. And… find things to do together that have nothing to do with food. Eating challenges can strain the parent-child relationship.

If mealtimes are still too stressful, find things to do together twice a week that aren’t about food—maybe watch a Netflix show or go for a walk.

Ask your teen to offer suggestions for shopping and meal planning.
Put the list on the fridge and let them write in what they want. Try not to react if they ask you to purchase certain foods.

Try to put a few things on the table they enjoy. Recognize that there will be food waste. They might ask you to buy a box of crackers and only eat a few. This is part of the process. Please try not to get after them for wasting food.

Support them when they are ready to explore.
This might mean taking them to a cooking class. Take them to Costco, Trader Joe’s or your local grocer to try samples while you shop.

Stay available, but in the background. “I’m here if you want to talk about anything.” Don’t ask after every trip to the store if they found something they liked.

Be careful of your expectations.
Your teen has likely struggled with eating for a long time.  Healing these issues can take some time.  Some young people make rapid progress, but for others it might take weeks or months.

Asking them every few days if they have tried a new food might make them more likely to shut down. Also know that early progress is not about eating those leafy greens. Early progress may be your teen making time to eat meals at regular intervals, enjoying accepted foods more, and feeling less anxious eating out.

Recognize that “healthy” is about way more than vegetables.
Health is about connection and about addressing stress and anxiety.

With all the focus on health, many people miss major opportunities to make a real impact on their health. Help them pursue their interests. Help them stay connected to others.

Teens who are picky may feel awkward eating out or at social gatherings where there is food. Part of this may mean fending off comments from others, planning ahead a bit around eating out or social gatherings, or learning to talk to peers to get their needs met.

Help your teen access professional help if they need it.
Anxiety is very common with persistent and extreme picky eating. If they need help with anxiety, talk with them and a school counselor or a life coach. There are books and online resources for anxiety that might be what they need to see progress, or help them access a therapist if necessary.

Give them tools.
Teens are working on independence. As parents, we want what’s best for our children, and we want it as quickly as possible!

Your teen will be working on ingrained feelings and preferences around food built over years and thousands of experiences. It’s not easy to make changes. You may also need to examine and address how you interact with your teen around food.

Selective eating is rarely an emergency. Accepting how your teens eats now, and being open to helping them in ways they identify along the way, can lead to real transformation.

Note: If your teen is losing weight or experiencing concerning symptoms that may be due to poor nutrition, or anxiety is impacting their ability to go about typical teen tasks, please find additional help.

Loretta Holmes, MA CMHWC is the owner of Bella ADHD & Life Coaching. She helps clients affected by ADHD and/or anger stop their self doubt and over come their fears so that they can live a happy, healthy lifestyle. Discover more about Bella ADHD & Life Coaching services here.

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