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Tips for Dealing with Picky Eater Kids

It’s a familiar scene in any family – your child is happily eating something…let’s say, bananas. You buy a large bunch of bananas at your next grocery shop, and suddenly he hates bananas and won’t touch them. Wasn’t picky eating a phase in toddlerhood, and aren’t we well past that now?


While it’s true that most toddlers go through a period of time where they become very persnickety about their food, picky eating can happen in phases throughout childhood and into adolescence. The reasons behind picky eating are probably the same in older kids as they are in toddlers – their taste buds are still developing and changing, and food is one of the few things they can control.


Tips for Dealing with a Picky Eater


10 Tips for Overcoming Picky Eating


The good news is that the strategies for how to get a picky kid to eat and focus more on healthy eating are the same as when they were preschoolers:


  1. Stay calm. Try not to make a big deal about untouched food or upturned noses. Doing so can have the opposite effect and lead your child to dig in their heels and continue to refuse the food.

  2. Know that bribing can backfire. Making your child take a bite before they can have something they really want, like eating dessert or getting up from the table, can have unintended consequences. It makes the food you want them to eat be something they have to endure, rather than enjoy. If today isn’t that day, then simply try again another day. (And do keep trying! You never know when a ‘yuck’ will turn into a ‘yum.’)

  3. Avoid villainizing vegetables. Go ahead and add veggies to a dish to help deliver more vitamins and nutrients, but either don’t call attention to it or, better yet, tell your child the dish has now been “supercharged” by the nutrient-packed veggies. Sneaking veggies and hoping you can trick your child into eating the “veggie-fied” dish sends the message that veggies are something to be hidden, not enjoyed in their own right.

  4. Buddy up. The idea of “hiding” vegetables likely came out of the more positive approach of pairing the food you want your child to eat with something he or she already loves. This is a smart strategy that works well. Vegetables pair well with dipping sauces or cheese, and chopped cooked mushrooms add meatiness to beef burgers and sauces.

  5. Start small. Large portions can overwhelm the senses and turn them off from eating. Give them a small portion of what you want them to try, or better yet – have them serve themselves.

  6. Try different ways. The same food prepared in different ways can affect how much you like it. Spinach is a great example – some prefer a bowl-full of fresh, crunch leaves while others have an easier time eating smaller, cooked-down portions of steamed or sauteed spinach. Both are nutritious, but your child might eat it one way and not the other. See if other foods have the same effect and lean into the way your child prefers.

  7. Get them involved. Not only should kids help out in the kitchen by preparing foods with you, but include them in all aspects of what it takes to get that food to the table: collaborate together on meal planning for the week or go grocery shopping together.

  8. Stick to a routine. Plan meals and snacks at certain times of the day. You want your child to be just hungry enough at mealtime, since an empty belly may lead to an open mind and willingness to try new foods.

  9. Pile on the positive peer pressure. You might’ve been begging your child to eat lentils, but it wasn’t until he went to his friend’s house and had it for dinner that he suddenly likes it. Cultivate community peer pressure by letting your child’s friend stay for dinner or allowing your child to eat at a friend’s house.

  10. Eat together as a family. Simply sitting down together to eat a meal can have a bunch of benefits, including modeling good eating habits and eating more fruits and vegetables. For example, sometimes the best breakfast for picky eaters is simply one that’s eaten together.  


Remember that as a parent, it is your job to provide healthy and tasty foods, but ultimately it’s up to your child to eat them. If you make it fun, give it time and just relax, they will likely come around and start experimenting with different tastes and textures again.

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