Picky eaters make parents worry about meal planning, nutrition, and their own parenting abilities. Want to join me in my new challenge?
I received some invaluable advice from two child nutritionists on picky eaters to help me turn around my four-year-old’s picky eating habits. I feel like I have a solid plan and will work it for the next few months and report back to them.
It actually begins at the grocery store…
Grocery Shopping for Picky Eaters
Allow each child to take turns picking a new fruit or vegetable during each grocery trip. Once home, divide the new food so that each member of the family can try it. Try to buy a variety of produce, to include favorites of each member of the family. Discuss how it tastes. Was it soft? firm? sweet? bitter? Should we buy it again?
Picky Eaters Do Meal Prep
Ask the kids to help with meal planning. What will be the main entree, vegetables, dessert? Then, allow and encourage them to help with meal prep. Can they wash, cut, arrange anything? Use cookie cutters to make fun shapes and get creative with decorating the selections. (Remember – presentation, presentation, presentation.) See this list of age-appropriate tasks children can help with, in the kitchen.
Enjoying a Meal with Picky Eaters
Offer what you have prepared for dinner. If possible, include a fruit, starch, or vegetable option that the child prefers, as part of the night’s menu. Allow the child to decide if he wants to eat. Don’t make a fuss. Rather, enjoy family time socializing.
What If My Children Are Still Picky Eaters (or Refuse to Eat)?
If he does not want to eat what has been prepared, then no other food choices will be offered. Refrigerate the leftover plate, in case the child decides later to eat. Keep him hydrated.
Desperate times call for desperate measures – do not purchase any of the child’s favorite junk food (cookies, chips, or other foods that may be considered unhealthy). Do not offer or allow any of those “junk foods” until the child has begun to try new foods and began eating a more widespread, healthy diet.
Offer a favorite meal (like a grilled cheese sandwich) as a special treat for lunch on the weekend.
Photo Source: D. Sharon Pruit
Ways to Ensure Picky Eaters Get Fruits & Vegetables
Serve them in a variety of ways: raw, steamed, crunchy, and soft. Make it a game by experimenting with many shapes, sizes, and colors. Offer smoothies to include milk and pureed fruit (and vegetables). Learn about new foods and research as a family. Make fruits and veggies easily and readily available for snacks and at meals.
Nevertheless, don’t forget how fun plating and creativity with the design can bring variety and excitement when it comes to eating fruits and vegetables. Toddler tableware and baby suction bowls with many amazing cute-looking shapes and sizes can make the experience of experimenting with and trying new foods cleaner, easier and more fun. They have enticing features like divided sections for multiple foods and adorable designs that encourage kids to get excited to try the new food.
Photo Source: D. Sharon Pruit
My eleven-year-old was a pretty picky eater. With time, I learned more about his food preferences and incorporated them into my meal plans. I remember learning that he liked baby carrots when we were at a school party. I never bought them because I didn’t like them. He still eats them regularly to this day.
thanks for the tips! my nephew is a picky eater so i’ll definitely be sharing this post with my sister-in-law. [and maybe keep this bookmarked in case he comes over!]
Picky eaters can be a challenge, but I’m told it’s mostly just a battle of wills. We have to stick it out.
One out of my four grandsons is a picky eater. He does like smoothies, so she is always hiding veggies in his smoothies. I’m going to pin this post and forward it to her. Thanks for the tips.
Great idea to add veggies to smoothies. I’ve heard of doing the same to casseroles, spaghetti, and of course, soup.
I love making smoothies for my kids! I can sneak all kinds of healthy stuff in there and they never even know! 🙂
Hmmm, wondering what else I can sneak in there now?
This is good information!! I will be implementing this with the toddler in my daycare who is sooo picky that he makes himself throw up when he doesn’t want something!!
Oh my goodness, my son used to do the same thing. Just the thought of a food “he didn’t like” would make him. But, over time, with repetition and some of the tips above, I was able to get him to try many things. Good luck!
LeeAnn G Taylor says
These tips are quite helpful since I have 2 kids under 5. However although I agree with all of these tips, sometimes there are things that sabotage our attempts at healthy eating…namely, SCHOOL! My daughter was sent home with a bag full of artificially colored sugar treats for Valentine’s Day and now that’s all she wants. Hard to overcome those school related treats that seem like they happen every week!
That would definitely be a setback. The nutritionist I spoke with also mentioned that it’s ok to have special times like Valentine’s Day, Halloween, etc. where we have special treats. Maybe you could offer her 1 or 2 pieces each day as a special treat, so they last longer.
Julie V. says
My niece and nephews got lots of Halloween candy last year (like all kids). Their mom let them have 1 piece per day, and then after Thanksgiving we made Gingerbread houses using a boxed set and their Halloween candy. This meant they got enjoy the candy, but since it was used fir decorating, they didn’t want to eat it. Of course, it also helped that for New Years they used fireworks to blow them up…
Thank you! I too try to get my little ones to eat healthy. I learned you have to offer new foods several times before they will actually eat them. Sometimes offering them in new ways will help encourage them to eat. It is difficult, especially when I am not the healthiest eater. Moms have to work at this too! 🙂
You are so right. I think of all the foods I have never exposed my kids to since I wasn’t exposed to them (i.e. asparagus, brussel sprouts). There are many foods I’ve tried as an adult that I would have never touched as a kid.
the kids look like they’re having a BLAST! 😀
They say it’s easier when they’re involved. We’ll see.
Shashi @ RunninSrilankan says
When my daughter was younger, we used to pick one new vegetable or fruit (that she wasn’t familiar with) together and try it -cooked or uncooked – she really enjoyed this once a week adventure and it opened up her picky eating habits
That’s such a great idea. Fun for the kids and explore the world of fruits & vegetables. Win-win.
Toiia L. Rukuni says
These tips are very creative and helpful for me, my son is five years old and slowly becoming a pick eater. We have not encountered too many challenges with his eating habits, but he has certain things that he just won’t eat like eggs, mushrooms, and spicy foods. However, I am thankful that he enjoys vegetables and fruits. Thank you for sharing, looking forward to perhaps trying some of these tips in our meal plan.
It’s all about balance. There are so many “normal” things my kids won’t eat. But, I pick my battles as long as their overall diet is nutritionally balanced.
Chrystal @ YUMeating says
I am so thankful that my kiddo is one who will try anything once and for the most part she pretty much likes all fruits and vegetables. The picky eater in the family is more my husband. He’s been a little better about trying new things. He may not like them all, but at least he tries. And, when neither of them are looking I sneak vegetables in where they least expect it.
You’re so fortunate to have a brave eater. My hubbs is the same way. Meat, potatoes, green beans. I’m exaggerating a little, but I bet you get the point. Hiding is a great tactic. Out of sight, out of mind.
Great tips, we’ve done lots of these with my own, kids and they definitley work!
Glad to hear. I feel a little more hopeful.
Love this! Have you read “French Kids Eat Everything?” Fun, fantastic read–and you recapped some of the main points really well. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for letting me know about that book. Will have to get it from the library.
Carie Spence says
Love this! I have an entire page on my site devoted to picky eater recipes so this is great to see!
Thanks for the recipes. Will have to check them out: http://www.sweetandsavoryspence.com/lil-divas-picky-eaters-page.html
i think some of us grownups could use those tips as well… 😀
You are right about that! I should eat a healthy breakfast and withhold that sweet treat from myself. 🙂
Jeryl M. says
Thanks for the advise except for my husband we have a house full of picky eaters.
Good luck! Hope some of the tips with work for you with some trial, error, and persistence.
I don’t have any tips for picky eaters. I don’t make special meals for anyone. Either you eat what I cook or you don’t eat. I have found children who don’t like what you cook may skip a meal, but once they realize that you aren’t going to cook them a separate meal, are happy to eat what you cook.
Thanks for the encouragement. Glad to hear it can be done.
Lots of good tips in this post.
I think this is very important “Allow the child to decide if he wants to eat. Don’t make a fuss. Rather, enjoy family time socializing.” I have three children. I never made food an issue. There was a small amount of pickiness, but they all seemed to outgrow it.
Thanks wise mom. Mine are 4 and 11 so I think everything that happens today will be forever. Glad to hear it doesn’t.
Amanda Smith says
Dealing with kids who are picky eaters is tough, but these tips you’ve offered are wonderful. I wonder? Do you have any tips for picky husbands?
Just had a conversation with my hubbs about this. Best I can suggest is to serve something new along with an old faithful. Maybe he will try it.
Thank you so much for the tips! My 5 year old daughter is a picky eater! She was just like I was as a child…I have implemented a few ideas that you mentioned already but will try a few of the others. This is so on time, thanks!
Great to hear. My daughter is 4, so hopefully she will keep being open. I will say for my 11 year old, that things got better once he went to elementary school. He began to try things he saw his friends eat and what was served at the cafeteria to keep from being hungry.
Katie @ Pick Any Two says
My 18-month-old son is just starting to exhibit some picky eater tendencies. Our strategy right now is simply to keep offering the food – instead of assuming if he refused it once he’ll refuse it forever – and not to let mealtimes become a battle.
Great strategies. I regret not offering more variety (instead of sticking with only their favorites).
Tomes Edition says
Awesome Tips. That’s a great idea to allow them to pick out a different healthy item and for it to be discussed. They would feel like their opinion counts.
I thought that was pretty genius when the nutritionist suggested it. Can you imagine what an adventure the parents might be on once the kids pick out items? 🙂
The doctor asked me if my daughter ate well. I told her she ate what she wanted and sometimes better than others. That is what toddlers do. She acted shocked like I wasn’t feeding her or she wasn’t eating right. I know all to well the picky eating habits of kids. I have three and each one is more picky than the last. Thank you for the topic and advice. 🙂
I’m so glad to hear your confidence as an experienced mom. We ARE the experts on our own kids, right? Wish my younger one would be as open as my oldest is. But, I know they’re two different kids with different personalities.
I make a lot of smoothies and chop the veggies into tiny pieces for the main meal to ensure that my son gets enough veggies and fruits he needs for the day. This is a great post! Thanks for sharing. Can’t wait to read more 🙂
Genius! Will have to remember vegetables in tiny pieces.
Audrey Ann says
Some great advise here, thank you for sharing! I don’t have kids, but will share these ideas with my friends who do.
As I learned from some of those commenting, these tips might be helpful for picky husbands, too. 🙂
My son is too young to be picky but these are great suggestions even just to get him to try new stuff. I like letting them help cook, I think the more involved they are in the process the better!
It’s definitely easier to start them out on the right foot, instead of trying to correct/change a behavior. Way to go mom!
Kristin Sumner says
My picky eater is now 14 and he is growing out of it. Although, he still won’t eat strawberries or bananas, he will eat apples. So that is his fruit of choice. He is a freak about greenbeans and corn, he will eat those for a snack lol.
That’s great to hear Kristin. I think that what it’s all about – eating any fruits and veggies, no matter which they favor.
Tammy @ creativekkids says
These are great tips. I have some picky eaters too, but we make them eat at least a bite of everything. I do buy their favorite fruits for school lunches as some fruits don’t pack as nice as others.
At my daughter’s preschool, they have to at least put some on their plate. My husband also encourages the kids to take a bite. Buying favorite fruits is definitely the way to encourage a love for it.
Thank you for sharing. My husband is the picky eater in our family, I have just learned to cope with it and plan around his likes and dislikes.
Yep. Me, too. Occasionally, we’ll all have something different. That’s ok, too.
nannette and the sweetheart says
Been a while since I have had to worry about picky eaters 😉 My Three Sons are grown and out of the house. They are all three great cooks and have expanded their “horizons” tremendously. Beats sitting at the table trying to get them to taste something new. That was always pointless! Great advice here.
So true. My taste buds have certainly changed. I wouldn’t eat yogurt, brussel sprouts, or avocado as a child. Their 3 of my faves now.
I’m so glad to hear someone stress that you do not need to “force” kids to eat. A bit more “relaxed time” and watching mom and/or dad ENJOY HEALTHY FOODS (as a mentor) will one day “flip the switch” to healthy eating for the child as well. Continue to provide those healthy foods and it WILL HAPPEN.
Very clearly written and informative. Thanks!!!!
Thanks for your encouragement and kind words. I’m hoping that it will have a positive influence on my kids’ eating habits.
Megan Bailey says
These are some fantastic tips! With a baby on the way, and a picky husband at home, I have had some concerns that my son will also be picky. But I will use these tips from the get-go once he starts eating solids.
My advice to you would be to expose him to all sorts of foods from the beginning. Otherwise, he will have an affinity for the exact same foods you and your husband do. Easier to get it right from the start, than to correct/change the behavior down the road. Congratulations and good luck.
Ashleigh @ Passion for Life, Love, and Health says
First, let me say that I LOVE these tips! I’m not a parent of a picky eater…in fact, I’m not even a parent! HOWEVER. **I** am a picky eater myself! I absolutely loved that idea to make sure to include things that the picky eater enjoys in the meal when trying something new. I’ve been trying really hard to try new foods and incorporate them into my diet, so I’m definitely going to start doing this! Thanks for sharing!!
Whenever I try something new, I try to pair it with an old favorite, so the meal is not a complete bust.
Eschelle Westwood (@Eschelle) says
ugh picky eaters are so annoying it is so hard. I am also a fan of the “don’t eat your dinner you get it for breakfast” concept. That has helped me battle my boys into eating their dinners 😀
I’m such a wuss. I know I could never follow through. My husband said that’s what his mom did.
Chuck Taylor says
What a great list. We have a child that is a picky eater and we had to employ the leftover plate in the fridge tactic. It is amazing how long some kids can seem to exist purely on sheer stubborn will. Our other kid we have affectionately called the “goat” as he will et anything put in front of him.
Thankfully you don’t have 2 picky eaters. That might drive you crazy.
My children aren’t picky eaters but this is a great way to incorporate learning in simple tasks such as grocery shopping. Thanks for the idea!
Louisa, you are so fortunate. Wish I could turn back the hands of time. Glad you found it helpful.
Thanks for sharing these tips. I really like the ideas of taking them grocery shopping and having them help with meal prep. We’ve tried them both with success.
So glad to know they’ve worked for you. Mine just argue in the grocery store.
Felicia Moore says
I don’t have children, but I remember being a picky eater when I was a child. I’m not sure how my mom worked around it, but she did! These are really great tips and I’m certain I’ll probably have to use them when I have children of my own!
Moms are miracle workers. I’m finding this out first hand.