10 Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters

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You’ve just spent 30 minutes preparing dinner. Your youngest sits down, takes one look, and pushes her plate away with an “Ew!” This common scenario is enough to make any parent want to scream. 

The good news? While children ages 2 to 5 normally resist new foods, their tastes change over time. Expanding their range of tastes is a natural part of development.

The other bite of good news: Picky eaters are generally not malnourished. Most children who make a fuss at the table likely have adequate diets. Kids’ fussiness tends to be less about getting enough food and more about their reluctance to accept new foods.

While children ages 2 to 5 normally resist new foods, their tastes change over time. Expanding their range of tastes is a natural part of development.

Try these strategies to help your child reach beyond his familiar, go-to favorites and discover new tastes:

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  1. Set a good example. Kids mimic their parents. Try new foods and recipes often, and let your children see you make healthy choices in your own meals.
  2. Experiment together. Let your child choose a new-to-you fruit or veggie in the produce department. Have fun tasting it for the first time as a family. If your child likes the new food, try incorporating it into more of your meals.
  3. Involve your child. Have your kids help in the kitchen. Children may be more willing to try dishes they have helped prepare.
  4. Give your child choices. Kids like to have control, no matter how much.
    • When serving a meal you know your child won’t want to try, include a favorite fruit and/or veggie on her plate so she has options.
    • While planning meals for the week, ask your kids for suggestions (feel free to overrule foods they suggest week after week, like pizza and mac-n-cheese). Point out who selected the dish when serving it and thank them for the idea.
    • Let your child choose the way you prepare a new food. For instance, broccoli – raw or roasted. Children often prefer the subdued aroma of raw over cooked vegetables.
  5. Be positive. Both in offering foods, and when talking to others about your child’s food choices in front of them. Do say, “He’s getting better about trying new foods.” Don’t say, “He’s a terrible eater!”
  6. Don’t be a short-order cook. Make one meal and serve it to the entire family. If your child won’t eat, don’t make a big deal about it. Children will eat when they’re hungry. This technique will help them learn they can’t manipulate you.
  7. Ask for their input. If your child sticks her nose up at a meal, try asking, “What will make it better?” You may be able to make the food more appealing based on her answer. For instance, adding ketchup or serving it at a cooler temperature.
  8. Be silly. Toddlers may forget their fussiness when they find their lunch in the form of a face with strawberry eyes, a carrot mouth and shredded cheese hair. Or try cutting food into interesting shapes: cucumber stars or a heart sandwich.
  9. Talk about food away from the table. Watch cooking shows and videos with your kids. Search the internet together for new recipes to try. Read picture books together that feature a certain food as a theme (this is a great way to introduce ethnic foods especially).
  10. Try, try again. Kids may need 10 or more tastes of a new food before they accept it. Keep offering and remind your picky eater he may not have liked it before, but this is a new day.
Small Steps: Take Some Nice Deep Breaths
Even if your stress level isn’t super high right now, this relaxation technique can still help you feel better.