10 Practical Tips for Parents of Picky Eaters

October 18, 2011
By: Laura Fuentes, Chief MOM at MOMables™ www.MOMables.com
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Got a picky eater?!  Below is some great advice from for moms who struggle daily with their little picky eaters. 

Regardless of how long it may seem that your child has been lingering in the world of “picky eaters,” it will get better.  As adults, we have eating preferences but I’ve never met an adult who only ate mac and cheese.  Dinnertime used to be my most dreaded time of the day; simply because I felt I had become a short-order cook.  Everyone ate something different and a 30-minute meal took nearly an hour to prepare, just to accommodate all five of us. 

Today, I am going to give you some practical tips that have worked for my family and many others.  Regardless of what type of picky eater you have (texture, color, or one refuses to try anything new) you must remember not to give up and that consistency is key. 

1.  Feed your child when he is hungry.  Kids will give you hunger queues, such as lingering around the kitchen, opening the fridge or pantry, ask for snack, or get very whiny.  Try to not feed your child a snack within an hour and a half before meal-time; it’s true what our grandmothers used to say that it will spoil dinner.

2.  Stick to a routine.  Many parents complain about tackling picky eaters “not working” yet their evenings are activity-filled and they rarely eat dinner together. Unless you are home with your child during the day, dinner is the only opportunity to try new things.  Pick your battles; either chauffeur your other kids to soccer and dance or have dinner together; but don’t expect your 3 year old to learn about new foods from the car seat.

3.  Be patient with new foods.  You serve your child something that looks great and tastes really good but he refuses to eat it.  You try it a few times and no luck. Did you do something wrong? Not at all.  Keep introducing it in different ways. One day he may try it and like it.  Sometimes, you might only get two bites and they decide that they’ve had enough.  That’s ok too.  Praise, praise, praise.  Two is better than zero.

4.  Make it fun.  It’s ok to let them bathe that broccoli in ranch dressing.  Whatever gets them to eat it at first is fine.  This is when you can get creative and throw some broccoli in quiche, scrambled eggs, or pasta. 

5.  Give them options, but not too many.  “Tonight we have broccoli or green peas.  Which one are you going to eat?”  This way, your child has some control over their environment (a big part of why kids are picky eaters) and they are eating something good for them the same time. 

6.  Recruit their help.  Getting kids involved doesn’t always mean in the kitchen.  At the grocery store, let your child pick which fruit and veggie they want to eat this week.  They chose it, so there’s no excuse to not eat it!  Don’t bring kids to the grocery? Ask them while you are putting your list together.

7.  Start out slow.  My son has an issue with textures and won’t eat eggs (in any shape or form) so I make him french toast on our breakfast-for dinner nights.  Yesterday, he took TWO bites of scrambled eggs, and then he had enough.  I told him he did a great job with the two bites and I moved on to something else.

8.  Make some adjustments.  If your child doesn’t eat chili because they don’t like beans, pull out a little chopper and puree it. Add a bit of sour cream and shredded cheese and now they have “dip.”  Serve with a few chips and dinner is now a lot more fun!

9.  Set boundaries and food rules.  Children are expert manipulators.  We set a 3-bite rule before they can say “no” to an item.  If they refuse to try or eat it they are sent to their room or removed from the table.  Whining and crying over food at the table is not allowed.  Sometimes, by the third bite they forget they didn’t like it in the first place and end up devouring the entire plate.

10.  Stay positive.  This last one is perhaps the most difficult for a busy parent.  At the end of the day, we often feel spent and running on reserve power.  My friend Michelle says “nothing a glass of vino can’t handle.”  I love that attitude.  It reminds me that much of good parenting is about being encouraging, nurturing, and flexible.  You can do it!

Laura Fuentes, Chief MOM at MOMables™, a wife, mother of 3 and a lunch enthusiast who insists on healthy, wholesome food for her family.  She's cooked up an entire company based on the principle of feeding kids uncomplicated good food.  On her personal blog, Super Glue Mom, she writes about motherhood, green living, deadlines and keeping her cool, even when her kids super-glued her hair!


1) Charlotte Testa said:
I don't worry about my picky eaters as long as their getting their Juice Plus+....26 fruits, vegetables and berries! A mother's lifesaver!!!!! www.testawellness.com
2 years, 9 months ago
2) Mary said:
I have a 3.75 yr old boy and 2 yr old girl, and both are picky eaters. They pretty much refuse all vegetables. I have been thinking about instigating a 3-bite rule like in Tip #9, but wonder if my 2 yo is too young for this. She is the quintessential 2 yo these days, very strong-willed and stubborn, and I am wary of punishing her for not trying things. What do you think?
2 years, 9 months ago
3) Laura @MOMables said:
Mary- you could do the "age" bit rule. 2yo takes 2 bites, 3yo takes 3..etc. at least they must try it. I always think that as long as you keep your composure... and in the sweetest tone say.."that's ok huney; it might not of been your favorite today but we'll try it another day" and move on. when she does try it, PRAISE PRAISE PRAISE. both of my kids have gone to bed hungry a night or two and that's ok too. I just make sure they have a healthy breakfast the next morning (my grandma used to say that now a days none of our kids die of hunger-she is right about that with mine). so if they don't like it, i don't give them another option we have what we have for everyone. you might want to try to 'hide' veggies in tomato sauce etc. I don't believe in supplements as a daily substitute for the foods my children should be eating. you know?
2 years, 9 months ago
4) Crissy said:
My child refuses to try new things AND is extremely picky about the presentation of the things she does eat. There is almost no variety in her diet from day to day. That being said, the things she eats are mostly healthy. Still, her rigidity about her typical foods and her refusal to try to things can be frustrating. Sometimes I feel guilty because of the lack of variety. I struggle with whether I should be pushing her to try new things and eat more variety or just be happy for the healthy things she does eat. Breakfast = 2 frozen toaster waffles, dry (no syrup, etc)...not the greatest thing but I feel like at least I'm getting something in her before she leaves for school. Trying to get her to eat fruit or yogurt at this time of day results in a meltdown. Lunch = some combination of apple slices, grapes, strawberries, carrots, string cheese, yogurt, maybe some peanut butter crackers Dinner = some combination of steamed plain broccoli, carrots, grapes, apples, strawberries, string cheese, yogurt (on very rare occasions, if she's feeling adventurous she'll eat a few fish sticks) All of these things must be presented in an exact way...carrots only raw (never cooked), broccoli lightly steamed (never raw), only red grapes and they MUST be hard as rocks, etc. Frustrating and I feel badly because of the lack of variety. But my friends make me feel silly for complaining because at least she's eating fruits & veggies. Any other opinions out there?
2 years, 9 months ago
5) Christina said:
I have 3 yo twins, and have snuck veggies into their diet since baby food. I mixed veggie baby food, (which I made) with pureed bananas. I take mixed leafy lettuce and cut it up very small, and add shredded cheese, raisins, cranberries, sunflower seeds, and Ranch (the miracle ingredient), and they love their salads. I buy frozen organic chopped spinach and put it in almost every casserole I make. I found the trick with adding other veggies to casseroles is cutting them up small! Carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower get served fresh or steamed with either ranch or organic american cheese. And eggs... on french toast as Laura talked of in her article, or with turkey bacon and shredded cheese mixed in it... and even my boy will eat eggs like that. The girl twin loves eggs anyway you make them! I always insist they eat some of each item on their plate, and if they try a few bites, then that is good enough. They understand that if they do not eat nearly everything on their plate they do not get a dessert, and I do not make them anything else that evening!... so they have gone to bed hungry a few nights. I never make specail things for each person. Both of them eat pretty healthy, and the only issue I have usually is disinterest with the girl especailly. It's not that she doesn't like the food, her little mind just wanders and she will take forever to finish a meal. I have started setting a timer, and if she has not finished her dinner in that time, then she does not get dessert. We also almost always sit down to eat together for dinner, and the children really seem to enjoy that time as a family!
2 years, 9 months ago
6) Laura @MOMables said:
Crissi- don't get discouraged! seriously. EVERY CHILD is different and they require different approaches. There are 4 articles written over at the momables blog www.MOMables.com/blog on picky eaters (check sidebar for topic). They might give you further ideas. Since she does eat waffles (frozen or not) try making them yourself. I will be posting a healthy waffle recipe on the MOMables facebook page tomorrow (www.facebook.com/MOMables). sometimes, swapping items they eat for homemade alternatives add extra nutrition. If you child is growing and isn't sick all the time... I wouldn't worry :) It's great she eats so many fruits and veggies! I have to HIDE all of mine
2 years, 9 months ago
7) Adri said:
Great article! Green smoothies are another great way to get a variety of nutrients in a "picky eaters" diet. A favorite in our house is frozen mixed berries, spinach, kale, banana, flax seed and unsweetened vanilla almond milk. Avocado is great to add to make it really creamy and adds healthy fats. Banana and pineapple add enough sweetness to hide the bitterness of the kale. My kids now think it is totally normal to add greens to their morning smoothie. We call the really green ones our "shrek" smoothie. We have lots of smoothie and kids friendly recipes at www.thewholetulip.com. The more our kids get the right nutrients the more their bodies will start looking for and wanting the good stuff!
2 years, 9 months ago
8) Jeanette said:
Make sure to address any sensory issues that contribute to picky eating. I've read zinc deficiency can make food taste bad as well. And, it's good to give a multi-vitamin. A good childrens multi by Kirkman was recommended to me by nutrtionist and author Kelly Dorfman "What's Eating Your Child". I have a picky eater too so I know what you all are going through.
2 years, 9 months ago
9) Jeanette said:
Crissy, your childs diet sounds like my sons. A few months ago he was worse but I've been working with him. He loves puree ice pops- pureed raspberries with vanilla yogurt. Check out the book Perfect Pops for more recipes. Our nutritionist says to give Multi-vitamin or Pediasure. I like our vitamin since it's cheaper than Pediasure and some kids get used to drinking their food rather than eating it. When we make smoothies we sneek good stuff even cooked eggs. I think with all things don't give up. Keep working with your child.
2 years, 9 months ago

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