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Picky Eater Tips: How To Help Your Child Get The Nutrition They Need 

by | Feb 15, 2022 | Character

If your child is a picky eater, you may feel like you are fighting an uphill battle to get them to eat healthy foods. But don’t worry; you are not alone! Many parents struggle with this issue.

The good news is that there are some things you can do to help your child get the nutrition they need. The tips below can transform your mealtime from a battle into a breeze.

Tips For Mealtimes With A Picky Eater

1) Step Outside Your Emotions

It’s frustrating when you work hard to prepare a meal for your child only to have them turn it down with a loud, “No!”

When this happens, it’s easy to get upset. But, if your child refuses to eat, the best thing to do is stay calm. Take a deep breath and remember that it’s only food.

Your child is not going to starve if they don’t eat what you want them to for a few days. Your relationship with them is too important to ruin by fighting about food. So, rather than give in to the emotions you might be feeling, try to stay positive and supportive.

If you’re getting frustrated, take a moment to calm down, and return to the table when you’re ready.

2) Acknowledge That You Might Be A Picky Eater, Too

Woman who is a picky eater

Before you get mad at your child for being a picky eater, take some time to self-reflect. What is your own attitude toward food? Are there foods that you refuse to eat?

Talk to your child about your thoughts, and share some of the struggles you’ve had with food in an age-appropriate way. For example, discuss how your tastes change over time and how trying different things helped you decide what you really liked or didn’t like.

These shared experiences can help your child realize that you understand. Conversations like this can build your relationship even as you’re walking through a difficult time.

3) Model Good Eating Behavior

Children learn by example. So, if you’re always complaining about mushrooms on a pizza or raisins in your cinnamon rolls, your kids are going to notice. And they’re going to do what you do.

To help your picky eater embrace more foods, model good eating behavior. Let them see you eating a variety of foods at mealtime instead of grazing on the same things every day.

If you don’t like something, model how to handle it. Here are some examples:

  • Tell your child that you don’t like green bean casserole because of the mushroom soup in it. Share that you’ll say, “No, thank you” and not have any on your plate.
  • Say “Normally, I don’t like green beans, but I’m going to take a bite because maybe I’ll change my mind.”
  • Show your child how you can use water to get the taste of foods out of your mouth. Say, “I didn’t like that soup. I’m going to wash it down with a big drink of water.”
  • Encourage your child to take a bite of a favorite food after trying one they don’t like. Tell them: “I see that there are peas and mashed potatoes on my plate. I like the potatoes but not the peas. So, after I take a bite of peas, I’ll eat some potatoes.”

This type of modeled behavior can show your child how to handle the foods they don’t like. Give them a chance to practice by doing some role-playing. Take turns being the picky eater.

4) Provide Small Portions

Small portions for a picky eater

Another way you can help your picky eater at the table is to provide tiny portions. Kids are often overwhelmed by the amount of food that’s in front of them.

Remember that your child’s stomach is only the size of their fist. They don’t need as much food as you do. To encourage healthy eating habits, start with a little bit of food at a time.

For example, put two or three slices of carrots on their plate instead of a whole spoonful. Or give them a few pieces of lettuce instead of a massive pile. This way, they have a manageable amount of food to try.

Your child can ask for seconds if they want! But by starting small, you’re not overwhelming them or their stomachs.

5) Get Your Picky Eater Into The Kitchen

Mom cooking with her picky eater child

When a child helps prepare food, they’re more likely to eat it. Invite your picky eater into the kitchen with you.

Depending on your child’s age, here are some tasks they can help with:

  • Stirring ingredients
  • Getting out ingredients
  • Unwrapping butter
  • Opening containers
  • Measuring
  • Dumping ingredients into a pan
  • Breaking eggs
  • Tossing a salad

While you’re cooking, don’t bring up their picky eating. Instead, use this time to discuss the smells and flavors of the food.

For example, have your child smell the vanilla. Or ask them to taste the sauce to see if it needs more salt. Find out if your child wants raspberries or blueberries in the smoothie, and let them add the fruit into the blender.

You can also talk about nutrition. See if your child can name the different food groups and identify what you’re making from each one.

If your child is a little too young to name food groups, try focusing on the benefits of certain foods. For example, you might tell them that drinking milk helps their bones grow strong or that eggs help them grow strong muscles.

The goal of this experience is to let your child enjoy food in a hands-on way. This gets them excited and engaged in the whole process, and your positive attitude can make all the difference in their willingness to try new things!

6) Hide Some Veggies

Fruit juice in carafes

Sometimes, it’s not the taste of the food that makes a child dislike it; it’s the thought of the food.

This is common with vegetables. Many kids decide they don’t like “green things.” So, any time they see food that color on their plate, they protest.

One way to avoid this is to get the offending food out of sight. Instead of serving it alone, hide it in other foods! Making things deceptively delicious means your child won’t see it and won’t know they’re eating it.

Here are some simple ways to hide vegetables:

  • Toss some into a fruit smoothie
  • Add shredded zucchini into noodle dishes
  • Blend spinach into tomato sauce
  • Put pureed squash into pancakes

Most children won’t be able to detect these hidden vegetables, so they’re a great way to get some extra nutrients in.

7) Focus On The Positive

Family eating together

Even if your child doesn’t eat the food you made, stay focused on the positive. Instead of constantly criticizing their behavior, focus on what they’re doing well.

For instance, praise your child for sitting at the table. Tell them “thank you” for joining you for dinner. Or ask them to pass the gravy and say “thanks” when they do.

Another way to make the table fun is to print an affirming message for your child and place it by their chair. These messages can become little rituals that get them excited to sit down and enjoy a meal together. They can also be great topics of conversation for the whole family.

In addition to serving new foods or things you know they don’t care for, serve foods you know they enjoy! Do what you can to make meals pleasant instead of a reason to fight.

By building new memories surrounding mealtime, you can improve your child’s feelings about food in general. Staying positive also keeps everyone in the house happier and healthier instead of frustrated.

8) Don’t Give Up

Even if you do implement all these tips, your picky eater isn’t going to change overnight. It takes time, patience, and a lot of effort from both you and your child.

The good news is that your child’s taste buds change as they grow. Kids have very sensitive taste buds that typically mellow out as they age. By the time your child is a teenager, their tastes and preferences are going to be different.

While your picky eater may always be one, you can help them learn how to handle their relationship with food.

Keep offering them new things. Experiment with different strategies to see what works. And talk to your child about their feelings surrounding food.

Above all, don’t give up on introducing new or healthy foods. Regularly offering new foods or foods your child rejected before but might be willing to try now is a good way to encourage them to develop healthy eating habits.

Support Your Picky Eater

Young girl eating fresh fruit and veggies

At the end of the day, you can’t force your child to eat foods they don’t want. However, you can provide them with a positive dining experience that encourages them to try new things. With some effort, you can help your child get enough nutrients, even if they are a picky eater.

Wherever your child is on their food journey, support them by serving appropriate portions, modeling appropriate behavior around foods they may not like, and making mealtime fun!

The Learn with Sesame Street app is an effective tool that helps kids learn and develop their social and emotional skills. With the help of their Sesame Street friends, kids learn how to express their emotions, empathize with others, and create healthy relationships. Explore the Learn with Sesame Street app today!


Dr. Jody Sherman LeVos
Dr. Jody Sherman LeVos

Chief Learning Officer at Begin

Jody has a Ph.D. in Developmental Science and more than a decade of experience in the children’s media and early learning space.