The Picky Eater and Me: A Survival Guide

When it comes to eating, children tend to fall into one of two categories: adventurous or picky. They often cycle between the two categories, much to the frustration of their parents.

If you find it faster to list your child’s likes than his dislikes, than you can probably fully relate to the dreaded, but oh-so-common ‘picky eater’. On the contrary, if your children will readily consume anything in sight, you may not give as much thought to this issue that many of us face daily.
Either way, don’t skip this post, because the tables could turn when you least expect it.

I am no stranger to the fussy eater. If I took the time to look back and analyze my experiences as a mom, coping with picky eaters would probably top my list as the single most frustrating aspect of parenting.

The fact of the matter is, a child’s finicky-ness at the dinner table is not a result of something we did –or didn’t do- during pregnancy; it wasn’t because of when or how we introduced solids either. It’s just kids being kids, so stop blaming yourself!

As I look back on the progress we have made over the years, I can say that as slow as it may be, the good news is that progress can be made. Here are a few things I have learned so far.

8 Survival Tips for Coping with Picky Eaters

Note that this is not a list that promises to change your child’s habits or ‘cure’ them of their finicky ways. It is meant to come alongside you in your struggle and provide a few simple solutions to help ensure your little ones are getting the balanced diet they need.

1. Pack in a big breakfast

This will help replenish energy reserves, especial if supper was minimal the night before. Try and include whole grains, fruit and even a vegetable such as Sweet Potato Pancakes. If your child isn’t big on breakfast, be sure to serve up a solid mid-morning snack.

2. Provide many opportunities to try new foods.

Never force your child to try something. If a food items is at first rejected, reintroduce it in a few weeks. Serve an item up a few different ways and with various textures: mashed, cubed, etc . Nothing surprised me more when my son all of a sudden decided he liked grapes. It wasn’t anything I did, save bringing them repeatedly to the table; his tastes (or mindset) just changed overnight.

3. Don’t underestimate disguise.

I won’t lie to my children about what I am serving them, but I also abide by the ‘What they don’t know won’t kill them’ principle. Take for example, the Shepherd’s Pie recipe that I have included below, a dish my boys, ages 4 and 2, normally eat without complaint. Without fanfare -or even a mention- I substituted a creamy cauliflower purée for potatoes and no one noticed a thing.

4. Be the role model for your children.

I cannot emphasize this enough. It used to be OK for me to push aside my nearly finished dinner and reach for dessert—until my four-year-old pointed it out. Children won’t naturally gravitate toward natural, healthy foods; it’s up to you, the parents, to set the example.

5. The Blender is your friend.

Most kids will eat almost anything disguised as a Smoothie. My simple smoothies consist of nothing more than fruit & plain yogurt. This is a great way to get some extra fruit in their diet, and a few servings of low-fat dairy as well.

With all the options on the yogurt shelf of the supermarket, plain is always best. Some of the other varieties can have up to 7 teaspoons of sugar per serving! Perhaps OK for an occasional after-dinner dessert, but not necessary if you are planning on blending it up with fruit.

Tip: Keep 1-inch cubes of peeled banana on hand in the freezer for a natural sweetener for smoothies.

6. Allow for grazing.

Keep healthy snacks around for quick handouts, but don’t allow them to snack close to dinner time. Raw vegetables, fruit, nuts, cheese are all good options. When cooking with kids, let them taste and nibble during the prep time and encourage them to try new things.

7. Keep some healthy quick options available.

Surprise! Neither Jack nor Jane loved the Salmon Wellington you lovingly prepared for dinner. By keeping some healthy quick options on hand, your child doesn’t have to miss out on a square meal. I’ll have a post coming soon with some of my solutions.

Tip: Be firm about your child at least tasting one bite. Even though he’s already tasted with his eyes and declined, doesn’t mean that he won’t like the taste on his tongue.

8. Choose the best ingredients for the food your kids DO love.

Is your pre-schooler on a P.B.J kick? Then provide him with whole grain bread, all-natural peanut butter and sugar-free jam. You may not be able to control his likes and dislikes, but you can ensure the food he does consume is whole, natural and the very best for him.

Final Thought

Power struggles still occur daily around my table and many a dinner gets derailed. It helps to remember that progress, although sometimes imperceptible, IS being made.

Looking Ahead…

This month on Simple Bites we’ll be looking at the trials and triumphs of kids and nutrition.

You’ll hear from real moms who are working to serve their children the best and how they deal with the pickiness factor. We’ll offer practical solutions on how to incorporate more veggies and serve balanced meals whether your children be just starting solids or full-fledged carnivores.
Stay tuned!

Shepherd’s Pie with Cauliflower Purée

  • 2 lbs organic ground beef, or a mixture of ground beef and veal
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 tomato, chopped or 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 large Cauliflower
  • 2 Tablespoons cream
  • nutmeg
  • 3 cups sweet corn, fresh if possible
  • paprika, to garnish

Sauté the onion in the olive oil until softened, about three minutes. Add beef and/or veal and sear the meat over medium-high heat, breaking up the chunks with a wooden spoon.
Add chopped garlic, cumin, oregano, tomato or ketchup, vinegar and combine well. Cook for ten minutes on medium, stirring often, until evenly browned. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

Meanwhile, bring a medium sized pot of water to a boil while you cut the cauliflower into large florets. Season water with 1 teaspoon salt and add cauliflower. Cook cauliflower until quite soft when pierced with a knife. Remove from heat and drain.

Purée cauliflower in a blender until smooth, adding a little cream to assist in the process. Season with salt and pepper and a fine grating of fresh nutmeg.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

To assemble:
In a casserole dish, spread beef mixture evenly over the bottom. Scatter corn kernels over the meat. Using a flexible spatula, spread cauliflower purée over the top of the corn. Smooth to cover. Dust with paprika and bake 30- 40 minutes until heated through.

Dot with butter and serve.  To your kids.

There are a lot of opinions on the subject of picky eaters. Feel free to share yours! Tips and encouragements are most welcome.

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. My two older girls would eat anything. And then we had Amelia. Picky. Picky. Picky. Offering foods in different forms has definitely worked for us! She loves cooked carrots and frozen peas! Trial and error.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thax for the shepherd’s pie recipe, I can’t wait to try it. My girls love cauliflower – it’s potatoes they can’t stant !

    • Let me know how it goes. This is the first I have heard of someone not liking potatoes!

      • My Monster doesn’t like potatoes either. Or rice, or much in the way of pasta. Basically, white food.
        .-= Cheryl Arkison’s last blog: A Toast =-.

        • Oh my goodness!! I thought my son was the only child who did not like pasta and rice! He will eat white potatoes on occasion but is a die hard sweet potato fan. I guess I can’t complain about that!

          • My four year old only eats baked potatoes, cut in half and scooped out with a spoon. Maybe a little sea salt ground on top.

  3. Oh boy can I relate to this. I have a very picky eater, who’s now eight and is still a picky eater. I’ve finally learner what will and won’t work for him, and us, but it took a long time. I love the suggestion of blending foods – that has been a morning saver for me.

    One thing we’ve done is allowed the picky eater to choose one meal when we do our weekly meal planning. He knows it must include one vegetable and one protein, but when he chooses it, he happily eats it and getting through the other evenings isn’t such a chore when he knows he has a “good” meal coming up.
    .-= Jan (Family Bites)’s last blog: Meal Planning Monday =-.

  4. I’ve struggled with #7 so much–do I ‘give in’ and fix them their own meal so that they will get some nutrition, or say, this is your meal, eat it or go hungary? I’ve usually told them it is their choice to eat it or not, but they can have only one snack (usually an apple or banana) before the next meal. I’m anxious to hear more thoughts on this, as it’s a constant battle at our house!!

    • Angie, there are many opinions and methods on this subject. Personally I wouldn’t be able to send my child to bed hungry. I know that even the threat of no supper would have no effect on my eldest; he just has so little interest in food.

      It’s rare that I fix him something else, that more applies to my 2yo, who still won’t eat everything we are eating.
      Every child is so different; I’m sure you are doing what is right for your child.

    • I’m pretty adamant about this one. I don’t find that my kids “go hungry”. If they won’t eat any of their dinner the meal stays on the table. And a few times they have indeed gone back to it because they were hungry. And other times, not so much. But no one is starving.

      If I’m ever worried that they won’t like the meal then I will make sure there is salad, something both my girls love, or bread, even though bread with meals is an exception in our house. But it goes on the table at the same time as dinner so it is never the notion of being something extra.
      .-= Cheryl Arkison’s last blog: A Toast =-.

      • Mandi @ Organizing Your Way says

        We don’t offer alternatives at all, but I do try to be sure that every meal includes at least one thing that each person likes. Then I serve a small portion of the things they may not like with the promise that they can have more of the thing they love if they eat the rest. My 4yo often declines to eat most of her meal even with the promise of seconds of her favorite part of the meal, so I do have to be ready with a hearty breakfast the next morning for her. She never complains of being hungry after dinner or during the night, though. Maybe just because the rule never changes, no exceptions, and has been that way since they started solids.
        .-= Mandi @ Organizing Your Way ‘s last blog: Decluttering & Organizing Your Bathroom =-.

        • Good solid plan, Mandi. I found it interesting when you shared on Twitter about your girls ‘cycling’ with their eating habits. Can you tell us more?

          • I’ve heard that a child’s body will not allow them to go hungry. Within a 24-hour period, they will consume the calories they need. Anyone else hear this?

            I read a comment from someone whose standard “alternative” for her child was a banana and yogourt. I like this and have since used it on my daughter when she’s being picky. She has chosen the banana/yogourt exactly once 🙂

          • Jess, my kids would choose banana/yogurt 3x a day; however I find that banana makes them constipated…

  5. I usually give a couple (well-liked, easily prepared) options for breakfast and lunch to my two (ages 3 and 2), but dinner is what is served and if you don’t eat it, you go hungry.

    I also add carrots into our smoothies. They are fairly sweet for a veggie and don’t change the overall flavor. In addition, if it’s been a light eating day, I’ll plan smoothies for breakfast and will soak some oats in milk overnight in the fridge to add a bit of fiber and bulk to the smoothie.

  6. Misc Jenn says

    My daughter can’t stand potatoes, so I’m excited to try this out with the cauliflower I have in the freezer (cooked some on a lark and pureed it without much of a plan, go me!). My biggest issue is convincing my husband to eat what I make without a face, or to at least attempt to eat with us. My daughter and I eat breakfast and dinner together (she goes to daycare), but my husband just eats at off times which is frustrating.

    Can’t wait to try this, looks like it’ll be our dinner on Thursday.

    • A structured family mealtime is so important for little eaters. Hopefully your hubby will come to understand the value of this together time.

      Enjoy the pie!

  7. The best tip I received regarding toddler eating habits was the “no thank you” bite. By making it a rule of our table that everyone has to try one bite of each food on the table, we have gradually developed tastes for things we formerly did not care for. I now eat collard greens (actually, I’ve come to love them!) My Hubby now eats and enjoys sweet potatoes and our three year old now eats green beans, mashed potatoes, broiled salmon, and cooked grains like rice, pasta and quinoa. 6 or 8 months ago he would not eat any of these things. (BTW, I am not a mom who fixes more than one supper. If our son refuses to eat, then he must not be that hungry! I do plan breakfast and lunch to include foods he likes, though.)

    A great tip from our pedi, a toddler only needs one tablespoon of food per year of age in order to have sufficient nutrition for growth. That means that if my 3 year old eats 9 tablespoons of food each day, he’ll be fine. This really helped me stick to my guns regarding not making a special meal if he refuses to eat. Now, each week he adds a formerly disliked food to what he’ll happily eat. So cute when he smiles and says “Mmmm, good” to broccoli, spinach or kale.

    In addition to encouraging a greater variety of good foods, we hope that it’s the beginning of good manners…always try what you are offered before saying, politely, “No, thank you.”

    • I love this tip, Becca! We usually insist on one bite for our 4yo. He’s had a few pleasant surprises along the way as a result.

      Love that the rule applies to mom & dad as well. Go you!

  8. My second son, Danny, gagged on potatoes every time he ate them. However, he loved french fries! One day he somehow overheard that french fries were made from potatoes. He was shocked and totally disarmed! His eyes almost popped out of his face. After that, he ate every form of potato.

  9. I second Becca, above, on the “one-bite” rule. I read when my daughter was a baby that research indicates it is often necessary to introduce new foods as many as 10-12 times to overcome small children’s resistance to new tastes and textures. I figured the one-bite rule was the best way to do that, and it has been the key to taking her from refusal to love of quite a lot of things. I try to only include only one one-bite item in any given meal, so that she can fill up on the other stuff that I know she likes, or at least tolerates. It still requires patience, but it’s so worth it when something like broccoli crosses over.

    • Thanks for highlighting a virtue that we all need an endless supply of: Patience! Sounds like you have a healthy dose of it. Good for you!

  10. My daughter will try anything. My son is the picky one. So I have been trying to do what you suggest, pb&j we use whole grain bread and try to stick with sugar free jellys and he loves hot dogs. I buy turkey dogs. I try to get him to have a least one bite of what we are eating if there is something he doesn’t like for dinner. I’m looking forward to the upcoming month of suggestions for picky eaters.
    .-= Rana’s last blog: When is it going to end? =-.

  11. I was an incredibly picky eater as a child, but now, as an adult, I love trying new foods. I think the one bite rule is a good one (once, I refused to have one bite of split pea soup – now a favorite of mine – and the “one bite” was waiting at me for breakfast). At the same time, I was never forced to clear my plate – something that has served me well over the years…I’m much more inclined to stop eating when I’m no longer hungry (even if there’s still food on the plate) than most people I know.

    A trick that at least helped keep me healthy was that my mom would often keep a bowl of the ingredients out for me…if I didn’t want the salad, I could have all of the ingredients of the salad but not dressed. When she served chicken divan, she would save a little broccoli, a little chicken, and a little cheese on a plate for me…and often I would be willing to eat these “plainer” foods.

    • Your mom sounds pretty great, Krista. May kids will choose a ‘deconstructed’ salad over a tossed.

      My son will eat nearly every topping when we are making pizza–olives, pepperoni, cheese–yet he is not a fan of pizza.

      • And The Monster will eat the pizza, but pick off the topping and cheese most times. But now we eat calzones quite often and all the good stuff gets eaten.
        .-= Cheryl Arkison’s last blog: Atrophy =-.

  12. Wow I had no idea that this was such a frustration for you, Aimee, or others for that matter.

    I am not sure if our boys are just naturally unpicky or if I have just walked a hard line with them. I remember a very early (6-8 months) battle with my oldest over pureed cauliflower. He refused to even take a bite and right then and there I knew that I would institute the “at least try it” rule.

    Since then we have continued with that rule and I never offer alternatives. Dinner is dinner and if you don’t eat it you go hungry. It’s amazing the difference I saw at dinner when I took out the afternoon snack for a while. It was easy for him to fill up at 4 after naps and then conveniently skip most of dinner.

    I also made a point of not giving them very much in the way of sweets. No sugar, no processed foods, no juice, and fruit here and there as treats. As a result our boys gladly eat plain yogurt, oatmeal sans sweetener, lacto-fermented vegetables, and just a lot of real food – meats, vegetables, grains, beans, etc. (I’m getting long winded now and probably could have written a whole article at this point)

    I can’t imagine how frustrating it is to struggle with this, and kudos to you all for feeding your children and caring for their nourishment!

    • Shannon, really? You had no idea that parents struggle with this? It’s pretty common across the board.
      Thanks for joining in the discussion. Grab a cup of tea and stick around to hear what some of us face three times a day!

  13. Yes, the “EWWWW” is totally unnecessary, isn’t it? A ‘no thank you’ is sufficient!

    My boys won’t touch berries of any kind–but they both love, and I mean devour, broccoli. Go figure.

  14. Do you have a good recipe for mac & cheese? Now that we are working on eating whole foods Kraft mac & cheese just won’t cut it anymore so I need a replacement that she will eat. She’s very finicky and mac & cheese is one of her favorites right now along with hot dogs (which I just started buying organic). I wish she ate better bit I’m not a big veggie lover myself so that doesn’t make it any easier.

  15. Great post! I have my ups and downs with my little one and seems that we hit a bump in the road at least once a week. But I just keep trekking on. Some days it bothers me and I seem to do a lot of gritting my teeth during dinner-but most of the time I brush it off.

    This week has been filled with eating surprises. He hit 18 months and decided he liked grapes, apples, grapefruit and navel oranges and….(wait for it-its big)…salad greens. I was flabbergasted!

    I really like the idea of loading up on breakfast. I think I’ll be making his favorite pumpkin pancakes for tomorrows breakfast.

    • Love it Melissa! He’s practically a little Benjamin Bunny! We give ourselves Beatrix Potter nicknames when it’s time to eat salad around our table. My Noah will down a bowl of tossed greens when his name is ‘Peter’.

      Sometime you have to get creative and make it fun, agreed?

  16. Jocelyne says

    Love that someone is talking about this as not being the “fault” of the parents. I’ve found that my kids take control of their diets when they’re feeling out of control about other things (e.g., school problems, toilet training, babysitting changes).

    One thing that was a good reminder for me was that it doesn’t hurt to make things delicious. This post about whether “yummifying” food makes it less “nutrilicious” really helped me get a grip. Yes, it’s okay to put cheese on broccoli if it makes the trees tastier.

    • Thanks for the link, Jocelyne. Nope, no ‘random nutrition police’ here!
      There’s no need to play the blame game, but it is vital to understand the importance of our actions as parents (see Number 4).

  17. Just wanted to give you all a pat on the back and a word of reassurance! My now almost 15-year-old stepson really struggled with food when my husband and I first met.
    Suppertime was often a source of conflict (he was 8, and knew that when he went home to Mom, she would feed him whatever he wanted).
    But we persisted in our positive role-modeling and insisting that he “try” a small portion. My husband eats almost anything. And I was willing to cut up the unappealing veggies into smaller, less recognizable pieces to incorporate them into sauces and add them to pizza.
    I’m proud to say he now eats all kinds of food (except raw tomatoes). I’m a pretty adventurous cook and he never goes home hungry anymore. It makes my heart skip a beat when he sneaks a piece of raw fennel from the food prep bowls.
    Hang in there! It’s so worth it 🙂

    • Beautiful words, Carrie, thank you!
      Good for you for sticking to your guns; that could not have been easy.

      • No, it wasn’t easy. When I first met this kid he told me he liked “strawberry-flavoured things” but not strawberries. I was flabbergasted. Don’t all kids like strawberries?
        To watch him grow into a healthy strong young man, who isn’t afflicted with all kinds of food hang-ups is the ultimate reward.
        I have also found with my younger niece that making her a part of the decision making process, at the grocery store, helps. I’ve had success when letting her pick out what vegetable we eat with dinner and helping me prepare it. It gives them a sense of control and ownership and makes it less of a power struggle.

  18. I am very easy to please when it comes to food. My husband is a picky eater – and although there are some pretty good reasons for it, I’m convinced that his parents “made” him that way. (Since we’ve been together I’ve seen them offer more than one dinner option on several occasions AND say to him “oh, you don’t like that, here have this…”)

    I’m hoping my kids will be like me… and eating ANYTHING.

    Although I’m not applying any sort of “food discipline” to my little one (at 10 months old I’m just coming out of the “she has to eat every 3-4 hour” phase) – we are starting to put our foot down with our toddler (almost 3) who has become more and more picky when it comes to her vegetables.

    Some examples…

    (1) there is no dessert (yogurt, apple sauce and fruit all count) if she doesn’t eat the better part of her meal.*
    (2) Instead of negotiating with her all through dinner, we’ve started giving her “3 chances” before calmly (and I think this is important, no sense in making the dinner table a battle field) taking her plate away… Does she go hungry by eating very little to no dinner one night every once in a while? I don’t think so.
    (3) When I know I’m serving somethign that she generally won’t like, I put a little bit on her plate (2 – 3 small bites) and ask her to eat just a little bit. This is actual working quite well these days.

    …and I think that’s long enough… 🙂

    • All very good tips, Andrea. I find it SO interesting that the pickiness is just starting now. As you know, it was ever-present in my case!

      Hang in there–with Layla. You could toughen up on B, though!! =)

  19. When you love to cook and eat, dealing with picky eaters can be one of the worst parts of parenting, partially because we want our kids to love food as much as we do and we put pressure on ourselves to produce “perfect” meals. (how can we pull of a dinner party for 12 and not a dinner for 3??)
    Love your list. But I would add: when serving a challenging meal make sure that at least one food on the table is ok for your pickiest eater (stale bread?). Because food issues are really about control — you want to make sure that no one comes to the table angry and feeling left out.
    Aimee — you hardly need the recipes but my book Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and Families Who Love Them — has a whole chapter on the dynamic between picky eaters and parents…
    But here is a post I wrote summing up our “Rules of Engagement” from the book:.
    Ellyn Satter is also a great (if not a little boring) resource.
    Sorry for the long comment, I can be a total bore on this topic …

    • Emma, thanks for stopping by and sharing your wisdom!
      You make a very good point about having at least one of your child’s favorites on the table. This might not work well for me though; I tend to cook a lot of ‘one-pot wonders’, instead of three dishes- a protein, starch and veg…

      Love the link! I’ll be stalking your site.

      • I would love to come over and have some one-pot wonders! But my kids, not so much. Would they find it more approachable if you deconstructed it? All the same food just in slightly different format? That’s not giving in, but it is compromising.
        I learned form Alyson Schafer — kids will target your values. My friend is a fashion stylist so her kids want to wear sweatpants, you are a chef therefore…
        I thought my oldest would never eat anything but white food, but now he is the best at trying a bite of new things (at age 10), he hasn’t quite moved to incorporating new foods into his diet though… but I am hopeful!

  20. I don’t force one or two bites with my four year old. She is such an emotional child that food isn’t something I’m willing to battle over. I do my best to encourage her to try new things and eat the part of the meal she likes. And in between meals, I offer a variety of healthy snacks to ensure she’s eating enough. I trust she’ll slowly become more adventurous (and cooperative) with age as my two older children have.

  21. Meal times have gotten easier for us since I started offering a piece of fruit or sliced, raw veggies as a pre-dinner snack. I was (obliviously) letting her fill up on crackers or somethign of the sort before dinner. Now, not only does she get a serving (or 2 or 3) of fresh fruit/veg before supper, she also is not too full to eat her meal. It also saves me from having to fight over her not eating cooked veg.

    The biggest difference in our day-to-day meal times is how tired she is. If she did not nap, dinner is usually more of a struggle. On days like that, I pile on the parts of the meal she likes and don’t set us up for a power struggle over the food I know she won’t want to eat.

    • It’s true, things like tiredness and setting dramatically effect how well children eat. When we’re on vacation, attention span at the table is minimal and everyone is tired! Not always a pretty sight.

  22. Jennifer says

    Thanks for the tips – I will apply them to my super-picky-eater-husband. The only downside is that he can read if something is low fat!

  23. Christen says

    Thanks as always for your insight, Aimee! Always good advice and yummy recipes. Can’t wait to try!

    Despite all my obsessive efforts, I’ve finally come to the conclusion (with good conscience!) that all kids have their picky moments. I think the key is “early adoption”, consistency and being a good role model to our children. Growing up in a family where there was nary a green vegetable to be eaten (neither hidden or in plain view!), I have found that it’s crucial to set your kids up for early success. I don’t want my child to have to learn how to eat her vegetable in her twenties as I did. Perhaps my experience has caused me to be a little obsessive about the subject, but hopefully, exposure to lots of healthy foods will help to foster a desire for wholesome foods throughout her life. So far it’s working but we’ll see what next week brings! 😉 Ahhh, three-year olds!

    Christen’s last SLM blog: 5 Techniques to Inspire Healthy Food Choices in Your Child’s Diet

  24. Phew, we are all in good company here. You would think that because I teach cooking classes to kids and give talks to parents about feeding their family that my kids would be great eaters. In fact, my son is tastes everything, but my daughter has a pretty small list of foods she likes. Sometimes, I think they just come hard wired.

    That said, everyone here has offered fantastic tips and strategies for stacking the deck in their favor: offering healthy choices, letting the kids help to choose the meals, including at least one item that people enjoy in each meal, and cooking with kids. But one important thing to remember is that most children (unless they have disabilities or sensory integration issues) will eat when they are hungry. If you provide viable choices, you have done your job. It’s important to let kids decide how much they want to eat, if at all. But if they know that they can have yogurt or another snack after the meal is over, why would they even give this one a try? I don’t have time to be a short order cook or snack dispenser…and I am sure that none of you do, either 🙂

  25. Annabelle says

    This is a great thread! I have to say we have been blessed with a pretty easy-going 3yo at the dinner table.

    We have a few rules – we always eat dinner together – even with two parents at work full-time and a hectic schedule, we develop a menu plan every sunday and stick to it until the weekend (where Daddy makes dinner on Fridays + weekend).

    I do offer alternatives for her – i.e. I’ll quickly whip up an egg in lieu of tougher meats. (I remember having to chew and chew and chew on meats when I was a kid and I just couldn’t swallow the stuff.) But she always has whatever we’re having on her plate too. Steamed broccoli is a mainstay – and so easy to add as a quick side dish. We make up fun names and if ingredients are all mixed together we’ll point out her favorite parts of the recipe and if she wants to pick all the carrots out and leave the rest, so be it. Maybe next week she’ll try the kidney beans.

    She does refuse food (sometimes food she loved last week) and she doesn’t eat everything on her plate most nights, but as long as she “tries” (the one-bit rule) we’re good. I do allow snacks to flow – like raisins, sliced apples, cucumber, crackers – because I don’t think its that important to clear the plate at dinner.

    I was a good eater too when I was a kid, but I was also told to eat everything on my plate to be a “good girl”. My sister, on the other hand, was born picky and I witnessed many fights go down at the dinner table. I do think that parents need to cut themselves some slack – my husband was always picky, his brother was exactly like me. I really don’t think this is something you can predict or truly shape – but rather “luck of the draw”. I think your article is great in allowing parents to move on from the idea that it somehow stems from them and offer tools to work with the picky-ness!

    Anyway, my point is, I think eating together is really important – food is always an Event in our house and a way for us to share our day. The company & the enjoyment make the ritual the main focal point, regardless of what is liked and not liked.
    .-= Annabelle’s last blog: Big change for a small month: the recap =-.

  26. Annabelle says

    woah – that was wayyy long, sorry!
    .-= Annabelle’s last blog: Big change for a small month: the recap =-.

  27. This recipes looks delicious! I will definitely try it soon!

    I am thankful that my daughter eats really well. She’s not a sleeper, but at least she eats! (That’s how I console myself! 🙂 ) I take care of a friend’s child every afternoon and he is a much pickier eater – it’s very frustrating. So, I can appreciate better now what some parents go through!
    .-= Katie ~ Simple Organic’s last blog: Gardening 101: Three Options for Creating New Vegetable Gardens =-.

    • That’s funny, Katie, my boys have always been tremendous sleepers (my 4yo still naps)! Interesting how it all balances out. =)

  28. I envy any parent of a child who will just go ahead and eat anything… although I wouldn’t necessarily classify W as a picky eater (he’s 4) – there are things he will not eat. Salad and raw veg (cucumber etc) mostly – and most of the veg he does eat are in other stuff (Shepherd’s pie, stew, pasta…) Although he doesn’t eat things like yogurt and juice either, which is odd for a preschooler, but fine with me. To sum my thoughts: I don’t use dessert as a reward, although the common thinking is you can’t have non-nutrient dense food if you haven’t eaten your nutrient-dense food. Although I offer everything I don’t want mealtime to be a struggle and be associated with standoffs and such – and if he does try different things I can appreciate that he has tastes just like everyone else. If I know he enjoys chicken and white bean stew with pesto, I’ll make it more often rather than try to force Brussels sprouts and salad on him. He’s been growing into things he refused to eat when he was younger (and vice versa – he used to love lentils, now can’t stand them) – and I’m all for sneaking stuff in under the radar. Not to replace other fruits (which he eats in abundance anyway – smoothies too) and veg, but why not add pureed sweet potatoes to mac & cheese and use brown rice pasta if you can get away with it?

  29. I’m all for getting away with adding veggies in too, Julie. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience. I’m finding all this so fascinating!

  30. Absolutely awesome post. And, I am loving all the extra tidbits in the comments. So many great ideas! Max has never been very picky.. but lately he won’t eat anything. I’m not sure whether he has decided to be picky now or if he’s just going through the “I’m too busy to eat” phase. Regardless, I am going to put this tips to good use! Thanks for sharing everyone!
    .-= Cheri’s last blog: Pale Pink Monday =-.

    • Cheri, the ‘too busy to eat’ is a valid argument and one I see often with my busy beavers. As I ALWAYS make time to eat, I have a hard time understanding this. =)

      Hopefully it’s just a phase with Max.

  31. I have a picky eater — not so much as to what she eats as to how much. I never know exactly what she’ll eat on any given day. So I just keep offering, and I try to keep offering variety. The best advice on eating I’ve heard comes from Ellyn Satter (and given our skinny minnie, we’ve talked to a lot of nutritionists and eating experts) — it’s your job as a parent to provide healthy and balanced foods, and it’s your kid’s job to eat them. You can’t force your kid to do their job. I do provide foods I know she’ll like (fruits — she’s a fruit bat), I try novel ways of preparing other healthy foods (crispy kale and the carrot pudding that’s on my blog have both been hits), try to include her in the preparation, and come up with good ways to convince her to just try other foods (“Remember Green Eggs and Ham? Remember how Sam I am liked them after all? Try these beets”) and I give her a multivitamin. I don’t want to mess too much with her natural eating limitations, since I think they’ll probably serve her in good stead.
    .-= Kate @ Savour Fare’s last blog: Strawberry Orange Cream Cake – Happy Birthday, Savour Fare! =-.

  32. Robin @ Hippo Flambe says

    I have had my good and bad mommy moments when dealing with my sons pickiness. With my oldest I tried once to make him take a bite of something. The Eyes shut tight, panicky look and then coughing and retching made me realize that was not the best plan for us. Instead I often insist they leave the food they do not want on their plates without complaining about it. Sometimes this technique has caused them to take a bite of the previously rejected food and discover they like it.

    I also believe they have to be hungry when they reach the table. It is far easier to reject food when you are full from snacks. So about an hour before dinner all snacking is limited to raw veggies. I always make sure there is something on the table everyone likes, even if that means picking individual vegetables out of a dish.

    Jess, I have never heard that a child’s body will not allow them to go without the nutrition they need but I have seen evidence of it. When my 7 yo was 2 he ate very little on Christmas day as he was too busy playing with his new toy stove and accessories. He made up for it all day the next day. I remember being in awe watching him eat the next morning.

    This morning we could have had a battle with my 4 yo who said he didn’t want french toast. I said fine, you can eat at preschool where they have cereal. Within 5 minutes he was happily eating breakfast.

    One thing I try to do is not worry about what they are eating. So long as the food I put on the table is healthy and tastes good I have done my job. Even I have times when I don’t want to eat a food I normally like. Why shouldn’t they, as children, have the same privilege?


    • Bravo, Robin. Thanks for sharing.
      We also cut off snacks well before dinner.
      And yes, on birthdays, holidays, and even while traveling, the little ones tend to eat poorly. They do make up for it, in their own ways, however.

      Great thoughts.

  33. Do you have any tips on the \”no thank you bite\” vs. never force them to try new foods? I really wanted to implement the one-bite rule with my 2 1/2 year old but quickly decided I was not up for that battle. How do you make them take one bite if they don\’t want to?
    .-= Jenny Rebecca’s last blog: a Parker post =-.

  34. Great post and comments!! My husband and I are food lovers and “one-pot meal” types like you; before kids, cooking and eating were two of our favorite hobbies. 🙂 Now things are more complicated though. We have four children: three “adventurous eaters” and one very, VERY picky 7yo son. He eats ZERO fruits and very few vegetables. I am always on the lookout for tips for him.

    We don’t do a “one-bite rule” anymore because as in the case of Robin above, our son would panic, choke, gag, etc. It made dinnertime a nightmare for us. Also “disguises” generally don’t work for him, as he is way too suspicious of sauces, pies, smoothies, etc. He will only eat simple foods. I know that these strategies work well for a lot of kids though. I love your suggestions #1 and #2 above, and of course #4 is essential. Emphasizing breakfast more makes so much sense to me.

    Also I wanted to second/third/fourth/whatever the suggestion to read Ellyn Satter’s books. She has not made my son a good eater (though he is a much, MUCH better “tryer”), but she has changed my perspective, and given me some strategies that I can feel confident about. It’s so much easier to have patience when you have confidence. 🙂 She also helped me realize that we parents often fail to see the progress as it happens. For a very picky eater like my son, his allowing a rejected food to be nearby is progress. His smelling it or touching it is progress. That’s why some kids need so many exposures; for them, learning to like new foods is a long process involving many steps. Now my son knows (and we do too) that he is not hopeless; he is learning to eat new foods, very very slowly but surely.

    Thanks again for all the great tips and discussion!

  35. Shannon J says

    My first ate everything, my second only pasta, my third was adopted at 10mos old and would only eat veggies in the form of baby food, never a real veggie (green smoothies being the exception) until he was 4yo, just a few months ago. It was too embarrassing to tell people that he had eaten a total of one plate of veggies in his whole life! Luckily he is now starting to try more foods. My fourth was adopted at 12mo and came home with real malnutrition issues. Three years later he’ll wake up during the night hungry once a week or so even if he ate a normal dinner the night before. I try to discourage it (mostly bc I’m so tired I don’t have the patience to sit up for a bowl of cereal at 3am) but some nights he wakes several times with hunger pains. If it were any of my other 3 kids, I would always ignore it but this one’s eating issues are definitely different. I need to take some time reading through all these comments bc I know there is some good info in here that I need to read/implement. Thanks for the topic!

  36. I’m way late to this thread, but my MIL had a really great technique that we’ll probably adopt for our own kids. My daughter just turned one and will happily eat ANYTHING, so I don’t have to worry about this yet, fortunately. 🙂 Anyway, my MIL allowed each of her kids to choose two foods that they couldn’t stand, and those were the two foods that they didn’t have to eat. They had to eat everything else that was served. And they were only allowed to change their two foods every six months.

    I love this approach, because it gives the kids control over those two foods that they simply can’t stand (and admit it, we all have foods that we just hate). But it doesn’t allow them to decide on a whim that they “hate” a food that they ate happily last week.

    So, my MIL did have to keep their “hated” foods in mind while she was preparing meals, which could be challenging (my BIL hates onions, for example), but it also showed that she respected each child as an individual who has valid likes and dislikes.

  37. So with all the rules and what nots such as 2 bites, one bites etc. what happens if that command is not followed? I have encouraged my sone to try 2 bites since i’ve had him home from daycare and am planning to homeschool him. He is just afraid to try knew things and here is the thing someone told me, that if they don’t eat what’s been offered to them by mommy or daddy, they can not honor you by it and more importantly if they don’t honor their parents they will not be able to honor God. I am a Christian, so that is my theory. What do you all do if they do not follow rules bescides let them go hungry. I don’t think the answer lies with what you do but more in the what aren’t you doing and how can my attitude as a parent change because obviously my technique isn’t encouraging him to eat the food and be adventurous! Hmm! Just wondering?

    • Obviously, your child is not trying to disrespect God by not eating food he doesn’t like. That’s QUITE a stretch. You need to provide nutrients for your child, and not turn this into some kind of religious training. He’s probably too young to grasp the concept of God anyway. You’ll just look cruel by making him starve because he’s afraid of scary new foods.

  38. Grown up picky eater here.

    I came to your site looking for tips, because I don’t want my children to emulate my behavior! My parents did the old “sit there until you eat it” thing, which obviously didn’t work, if I still don’t eat the things they tried to force on me, besides, I started saying my tummy hurt to get out of the table, and that meant not eating dinner 3- 4 nights a week.

    I like your ideas a lot better 🙂

  39. Oh my personal amazing benefits!! When i idea my personal son ended up being the only youngster that failed to just like pasta and also rice! He’ll take in white taters at certain times although is really a pass away tough fairly sweet spud supporter. I assume When i can’t complain this!

  40. great article, it was exactly what I was looking for. Thank you!

  41. Great post. I am going through some of these issues as well..

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