Calm/Assertive Parenting Procedure (CAPP): How to Deal with a Picky Eater


Calm/Assertive Procedures like this one give kids two choices and two choices only. Kids can either:

Be cooperative


  1. Suffer the consequences of not being cooperative

Either way, we can be calm and empathetic because we do not allow this third option to exist:

  1. Do whatever you want, develop bad behaviors, and become a person people don’t want to be around

The possibility of allowing choice C is what makes us angry, excitable, and sometimes irate because we love our kids and we know where kids who get to use choice C often end up.

Calm/Assertive Parenting Procedures like this one take into account all possible ways that kids will try to get to choice C. We stop those channels to C and reroute back to either choice A or B. We do this all without ever trying to control that which we cannot control.


Here We Go…

After a long day at work or home with your kids, how frustrating is it to work hard on a meal and have your kids complain about your cooking or refuse to eat it at all? This can be particularly difficult when you may be sitting down to relax for the first time all day.

Because of this less-than-great timing, many times parents don’t deal well with this situation. Often moms and dads will go straight to anger or lectures about respect and appreciation.

Here’s what to do instead.

What Not to Do

Don’t use anger or lectures. Remember that you did not respond well to these parenting tactics as a kid. No one ever thought after a lecture (“I walked uphill to school… both ways”), “I should be more appreciative to my wonderful, hard-working parents.”

Don’t try to make your kids eat anything.

Don’t prepare any alternative meals for your kids.

Don’t spend a lot of time asking your kids questions about the foods that they prefer. As is obvious, you will notice what they like without having to ask.

Don’t engage in any arguments. In response to any attempt to argue, simply say. “I hear ya”, and nothing else.

Don’t stop eating and enjoying your dinner.

What to Do: Setting the Limit

Apologize for getting frustrated or about misleading about how dinner operates in your home. Let your kids know that you will be greatly simplifying dinner and that, as a result, you will no longer be getting frustrated.

Let your kids know that, from now on, you will be making one meal per night.

Let them know that they can eat as much or as little of the meal as they want.

Let them know that they don’t have to eat any of the meal.

Let them know that there will be absolutely no snacking after the meal unless the kids eat enough according to whatever you, the parent, feel is enough.

For kids who are old enough to prepare basic meals for themselves, let them know that they are free to prepare meals from a predetermined list of 2 or 3 meals. The emphasis here is that your kids are the ones making these dishes for themselves. YOU NEVER MAKE AN ALTERNATIVE DISH FOR YOUR KIDS. Let them know that they will be allowed to eat these meals they make for themselves until you feel that they are not getting enough nutrition because they are eating the same food every meal. This can be done by either not allowing any alternative meals for a period of time, or, more likely, taking away one of the two or three alternative choices for a period of time. Respond to arguments about this as prescribed.

Alternative dishes should be basic, not highly palatable (not a combination of high sugar, high fat and high salt content), and nutritional according to your own definition of what that means. Don’t make a problem for yourself: only keep the ingredients for one alternative meal if keeping the ingredients for more than one stresses you out. Also, your kids must be able to make this before dinner starts, so they need to be very simple. Convenient alternative dishes may include a turkey and cheese sandwich, peanut butter and apples, fruit and cheese, etc.

Of course, when you have time and when you feel like it (and not until then), you can cook with your kids, take suggestions about new dishes, and even allow your kids to make dinner, if that makes sense for your family. WHAT I AM NOT SUGGESTING is some pie-in-the-sky dreamworld where a working family takes three hours per night to craft and curate an organic feast that is blissfully delicious for everyone (this will never happen, and trying to make anything like this creates undue stress).

If a child is not old enough to create an alternative meal, they cannot yet have an alternative meal.

What to Do: Intervention #1

Let your kids know one time what the meal will be in enough time for them to prepare an alternative meal if need be: “We are having _____. Feel free to create an alternative meal any time before we start eating at (enter time here).”

If your kids create an alternative meal in time, they can eat that meal. They can even have both meals, according to how many calories you feel are appropriate.

If they fail to create the alternative meal completely, they can have whatever part of the meal they have made. If they prepare nothing, they can only eat the meal you prepared.

What to Do: Intervention #2

The second intervention is to simply eat and enjoy your own meal. Engage in conversation with your family. If you have gotten into the habit of not talking with your family at the table, you can jump start conversation by using a conversation starter such as Table Topics or any other such activity. Model proper behaviors and manners as you enjoy your family. Any grumbling about the quality of the food, or any attempt at whining, complaining, or arguing should be met with a casual “I hear ya…” as you continue to put food in your mouth, laugh, and enjoy yourself (but probably not all at the same time).

What to Do: The Consequence

If your kids decide to not choose from the list of alternative meals, and they do not choose to eat the food that you have provided, they will be hungry. That is their consequence. This will make them more likely to eat something, and more likely to eat more at their next meal. It will also make them far more likely to eat something at all meals from now on.

Again, cries of “I’m hungry!” Should be met only with the phrase “I hear ya…”.

Kids who have not eaten a satisfactory amount should not be allowed to snack between meals.

Kids too young to prepare alternative meals will either eat what is prepared, or be hungry.


  • Your child will not suffer ill health effects from missing a meal if they do not have underlying health issues. If they do have ANY health issues, consult your doctor about anything that you do regarding food. It will surprise no one that I am not a doctor. Make sure you consult a physician if you are in ANY way concerned that your kid may have an underlying health condition.
  • You must make sure your kids cannot sneak snacks if they do not eat enough. If they are proven to be trustworthy in this regard, no action is necessary on this. If not, snacks may need to be removed or locked up. A little bit of removal or locksmithing is easily worth your kids being trained to be pleasant and healthy at the family table.