Tips to Overcome Picky Eaters
Getting kids to not be picky eaters is a difficult process. Luckily, we have a cooking community filled with parents who encourage their kids to try new things and become #KidsWhoEat. Discover their tips and words of wisdom below.
Managing a picky eater can be an incredibly stressful experience, but remember you’re totally not alone. We asked a few of our Cook Smarts community members to share some of the tactics they’ve used to help their kids become a little less picky and a little more open to new foods. Keep in mind that what works for some kids may not work for others, so just give it all a try!
And since we’re all in this together, they’ve also left you with some of their own wise words to help you through those dark moments at the table.
Mom to 2-year-old girl, 16-year-old boy
What I’ve tried: I don’t make different meals for them, but I always provide at least one food on the plate I know they’ll enjoy. I don’t pressure them to try any other foods, but I always offer everything.
Wise Words: Just keep offering, and don’t worry if they don’t try it.
Mom to 4-year-old girl
What I’ve tried: I keep presenting new foods and ask that she takes at least one taste of anything new. I’ve also tried lots of different presentations (like cutting things into fun shapes).
Wise words: It’s hard, but try not to get discouraged. Also, don’t push too hard. The limit will be different for every child, but you probably know what their limit is, so don’t make eating a power struggle.
Mom to 11- and 8-year-old girls and a 5-year-old boy
What I’ve tried:
- We don’t fuss over food at the table and keep the table conversation positive.
- Understanding that a kid’s serving size is much smaller than an adult’s. Your kid might not be picky – they just eat less than you think they should.
- Being cool with monotony. My youngest eats red peppers and a cutie in his lunch every single day. It’s not exciting, but it ain’t Pop Tarts so it’s a win.
- Not labeling siblings. If I had to label my kids, my oldest is an adventurous eater, my youngest is all boy and a trash disposal, and my middle is a cautious eater, but I pretend like they are all great eaters so that it just might happen!
- Let them eat what you eat. I thought my oldest was picky until I stopped feeding her Gerber food and started feeding her right off my plate. Then she ate everything.
- Make sure to season your food. Your food has to taste good to compete with packaged, processed options!
Wise words: Your goal is to raise a picky eater. Realize what you want is for your child to look at the sugary, delicious, processed treats that are around every corner and say, “Naw, I’d rather go home and eat some delicious broccoli with my mama tonight.” If you have a cautious eater, don’t worry – that can be a good thing ultimately!
Be proud of your kid if they allow the salad to sit on their plate, even if they don’t eat it. And be proud of it if they take two “no thank you” bites and nothing more. Even be proud if your kid is disgusting like my youngest and literally barfs out food he doesn’t like back onto the plate. Eventually that turns into actually eating.
Also, please don’t worry about your kids starving. They will eat. Keep providing the opportunities to try new things and don’t let those little people know how much they are driving you crazy with their food rejection. No power struggles. Just stock your house with food you don’t mind your people eating, and look for little opportunities to enjoy new things together.
Mom to 5- and 2-year-old girls
What I’ve tried:
- Worked well – Feed them new foods and veggies when they are very hungry.
- Works, but less well – Offer a relatively wide variety of foods at a meal and new foods regularly even if the food has been previously rejected.
- Hasn’t worked for us – Involve them in the cooking process. They love to be involved, and will taste it, but this does not seem to increase their enthusiasm for eating whatever it is!
Wise words: Keep working at it! Don’t give up and cater to your kid’s taste all the time. Balance food you know they’ll eat with new stuff, and always have a decently healthy, no-cook backup in case of total failure. (In our case: cereal, bananas, carrots and hummus, and things like that.)
Mom to 6- and 1 ½-year-old kids
What I’ve tried: I put a variety of foods on the table with a couple of things I know they like. I don’t get too annoyed if they reject it and I just keep trying foods over and over again. Some day they will try it and maybe even like it.
Wise words: Be patient. Try again. Have some wine and laugh.
Mom to 3- and 1-year-old boys
What I’ve tried: Followed many of the instructions in the book First Bite, which includes:
- Mom and Dad modeling healthy eating habits (i.e. making good meals for ourselves every night).
- Rewarding them with a sticker in a sticker chart for even the tiniest little bite of new foods.
- Reducing the portions (literally less than a dime to start) of new foods so it wasn’t so overwhelming. Imagine someone putting a huge heaping of your least favorite food on your plate! It seems overwhelming so you don’t even want to start, but if it was just a tiny little bite, most people (and toddlers) feel like they can handle it.
- Letting go of trying to control the portion size my son eats. My job was to put good food on his plate (and not offer a snack or alternative) and then not care about how much he actually ate. When I stopped pressuring him to eat, he actually liked eating more and started exploring more.
Mom to 10-year-old boy and 7- and 5-year-old girls
What I’ve tried:
- What hasn’t worked – Forcing them to stay at the table until they take x number of bites or anything that turns meals into a power struggle. It also doesn’t help to tell them they’re being ungrateful.
- What has worked – Serving them food without forcing them to eat it. Continuing to offer unwanted food every now and then. Cooking well so the food tastes good! Modeling an appreciation for a variety of food, so they can at least aspire to liking more things.
- Mixed results – Bribery. Sometimes you really just want them to at least taste something. I offer dessert as a reward for that, but only occasionally.
Wise words: It’s your dinner, too. Cook the meals that you enjoy and it’s up to your kids to eat the parts they want.
Want your kids to learn more about food and healthy eating? See how our new wall calendar can help kids eat better and broaden their food and cooking knowledge here.
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