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Publication #FAR8003

Dealing with Picky Eaters1

Donna Davis2

Figure 1. 
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“No dessert unless you eat your vegetables!” “You’ve got to join the Clean Plate Club!”

There were motivations to eat that many baby boomers heard as they were growing up. Families across America were learning how to eat by the rules. But, according to current research, those rules may have done more harm than good.

These days, developmental psychologists and nutritionists are teaching a new approach, one based on research. For example, research has shown that offering children dessert as a reward for eating their vegetables teaches them that vegetables are less desirable than dessert and makes them less likely to want to eat their string beans or broccoli.

Some old habits, like eating everything on the plate and getting dessert only when the plate is clean, have contributed to eating disorders and obesity in many baby boomers. So what are the options when teaching kids, especially those picky eaters, how to eat properly? University of Florida faculty offer several suggestions.

First, establish a comfortable meal environment without television or other distractions.

Next, be aware of child-size portions. As a general rule, serve one tablespoon of each food per year of life. Let children ask for more if they are still hungry. If you are having dessert, include a small serving on the plate along with the meal, and let your child decide when to eat it.

Third, respect food preferences. Allow your child to politely decline food he doesn’t like.

Always have something at each meal that your child enjoys.

Finally, allow children to stop eating when they are full, and leave the Clean Plate Club in the past as an old relic.

Listening, learning, and living together: it's the science of life. "Family Album" is a co-production of University of Florida IFAS Extension, the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, and of WUFT-FM. If you'd like to learn more, please visit our website at

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This document is FAR8003, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Broadcast as program 14 in October 2004. Reviewed and published on EDIS March 2012. In the interest of time and/or clarity, the broadcast version of this script may have been modified. Visit the EDIS website at


Donna Davis, senior producer, Family Album Radio, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.