Tackling Those Picky Eaters

I am absolutely thrilled to be heading to Atlanta early this morning for the BlogHer Food Conference, to speak on a panel about Picky Eaters. Fitting right? Since most of you won’t be there, I have compiled some tips that may help those finicky eaters that I will be speaking about Saturday morning.

Many of you have picky eaters on your hands or know friends who do. What on earth do we do about it? To be honest with you, there is no magic answer here. Every child is so different. For heavens sake, I was one of the pickiest eaters myself as a kid. I am talking, the only vegetable I would eat is corn, and thought macaroni and cheese with hot dogs was the perfect dinner. The thought of eating lettuce greens or tomatoes made my stomach turn. I am happy to say, I like about everything in my adult years. Can hardly believe I am a foodie now, lol! I tell you this, because I know there is hope for those little picky palates when you think there is absolutely no hope!

What I do know, is what has worked for my boys over the years. Here are some tips I have compiled that I hope can help!

Slowly introduce new foods to your little ones. Don’t expect them to jump up and down with excitement the first or even second time you give them a new food. Persistence and patience is the key.

Make your vegetables and or fruit that your little ones may not be very excited about into fun shapes. Use small cookie cutters to cut their fruits and veggies into something new and exciting. Play “What can we make out of our food?” chances are they’ll love it.

Get your kids in the kitchen with you while preparing meals. When they have a hand in dinner, they’ll be proud of what they’ve done and want to eat it. As hectic as it can be at times, take the kids to the grocery store with you so they can help pick out ingredients for dinner. Build excitement about what they pick out.

Don’t make more than one dinner per night for your family. Some moms I know make dinner for each child because they don’t like what was fixed. No way! Try a “No Thank You” policy. If your child doesn’t like what was made for dinner, simply have them try at least one bite each time then say “No Thank You” if they don’t like it. Even if they don’t like it the first time, chances are they’ll eventually learn to enjoy it. If they know there is only one choice for dinner, they won’t want to be hungry later.

Make dinner a fun experience, where the kids are excited to sit down. Your vibe will rub off on them. When they see their parents ooing and ahhing over what they are eating, they’ll be more likely to eventually join you. You can even play games with you food while you are eating, like “Let’s see who can take more bites or how many different colors of the rainbow can we eat off our plate?” Something with a little competition can be fun.

Try “naming” your child’s food something fun and playful… Sammy’s Saucy Superhero Spaghetti, Luke’s Green Giant Broccoli, Anna’s Princess Smile Oranges….you get the idea, make it fun. Purchase inexpensive “fun” kids plates that might be exciting to your child. If they are eating off of their favorite superhero or princess, they will want to gobble up their food.

Avoid too many snacks before dinner time, keep them hungry for dinner.

Most importantly be patient and make meal time fun. Persistence will be your best friend.


What has worked for your family of picky eaters? Any magic tips I should know about? Would love to hear it!

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52 Responses
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  3. Shannon

    I have a 7 year old stepson who is at our house up to four nights a week, and he’s a very picky eater. To make matters worse, at his mother’s house, it appears, he’s allowed to eat fast food, sodas and snacks without limit. I prepare healthy home-cooked meals with vegetables and no red meat, salads, no sodas, etc. and we never have fast food unless we’re traveling.
    He refuses just about anything I make except pizza or pasta but we can’t have that four times a week, either. Nor do I want to get into the multiple meals trap. He won’t try anything new with any tricks or cajoling, and whines piteously and begs for snacks all night long if we tell him that was your dinner, and you didn’t eat it. What to do? I also don’t want to come across as the mean veggie-peddling stepmother when I’m only trying to help us all be healthy.

  4. Cookin' Canuck

    Persistence and patience – you said it, Jenny! And you’re right on the mark about getting kids to help in the kitchen. It’s amazing what they’ll eat when they help prepare it.

  5. marla {family fresh cooking}

    Great tips Jenny!! Best of luck on your panel at BlogHer Food, you have soooo many great things to share πŸ™‚ xo

  6. Shreela

    I just woke up, so I’m not looking stuff up LOL, but I’ve read a few articles from science sites about how it’s believed that food preferences start in the womb, that if a mother eats a variety of veggies, her child will be more prone to eat them, but if a mother eats junk, meat, and potatoes, that’s what her child will want to eat, or something like that.

    I’m not sure I’m believing that, because I’ve observed quite a few “mental” choices when it comes to a child’s dislikes: A mom didn’t like meat, and would actually voice her disgust at meat in front of her 8 yr old – repeatedly. So big surprise her daughter also didn’t like meat. I also saw a toddler refuse to eat green bean casserole, being spoon fed to him. I washed off his walker’s tray, put him in it, put the green been casserole on his walker tray – he putted all around, eating when it suited him. He returned for seconds! I’ve seen kids try veggies when surrounded by other kids that weren’t picky eaters, instead of surrounded by indulgent adults (peer pressure can be a handy tool – if used correctly haha).

    I also recently read about a mother deciding to go frugal because of food prices vs job instability. Previously, she’d ask her children what they wanted for breakfast, but when she invoked parental control again and just put mom’s breakfast choice on the table, oh surprise, there were complaints. I grew up only allowed to choose a meal for special events, like birthdays.

    My mother only made ONE meal, but often made at least 2-3 veggies (no, corn did NOT count as veggie). We had to eat 2 veggies at dinner, or no dessert! (usually fruit based). She did not serve us, but we had better eat everything that we served ourselves, and we weren’t allowed a second glass of milk or another bread until we finished our veggies that we served ourselves. My brother was picky due to numerous allergies (which went away once his bad kidney was removed, also he went from clumsy to athletic in less than a year after it was removed!) Anyway, he was expected to eat by the same rules as the rest of us, and there usually wasn’t any problems because Mama always planned the numerous veggies around our likes and dislikes, so everyone had at least 2 liked veggies for dinner (never any leftovers – she was good LOL).

    PS: I’m curious how many obese children are picky eaters?

  7. Out of the Box Food

    I just wrote a post about this myself this week. In participating in some of the Food Revolution stuff, I discovered that my kids LOVE to participate in recipe contests – So now we have the Gerber Family Recipe Challenges. Here’s how it works, I give a topic (ie Salad) and they come up with a recipe, and a creative name for the recipe. The great part is, we make the submitted recipes for dinner…and the kids eat it because they invented it! If you want to check out more you can find the post at http://outoftheboxfood.com/?p=3066. Thanks for the fun post and hope you’re enjoying BlogHer Food!

  8. Allison

    hey, jenny! this is a good topic, one i wish i had all the answers to! a few months ago we had to go get a food evaluation done on brooklyn because of all the issues we’ve had with her eating, and you know how small and skinny she is. anyway, the evaluator gave me a few additional tips to some of the ones already mentioned (like have kids help prepare meals).
    she suggested introducing new food at a time other than dinner, like lunch or a snack, which takes some of the pressure off of dinner. when introducing new foods, try a 3-bite rule. if you also give that same food at dinner, maybe only 1-bite is required.
    if the kid refuses to eat what is served for dinner, she still needs to sit at the table and remain with the family for dinner, with food on her plate (you never know, she might just get hungry enough to take a bite!)
    also, she suggested letting kids dish out their own food, when appropriate, rather than having parents load up the plate. this way kids have a little control over their meals.
    these tips worked well at first for us, and we still try to use them, it is just exhausting as a parent having to struggle with this day in and day out. but i guess being persistent is the key. and i should add that i have seen some improvement in brooklyn–she will eat some foods now that she wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole in the past! have fun in atlanta!

  9. April

    i have a cute 2 1/2 year old little boy…but he definitely is a little picky eater. Most the time I don’t worry too much because I hear that it is pretty normal for 2-year-olds to be choosy with their food. So I try and feed him the most nutritious things possible and then slip a few new things on his plate every once in a while. Does anyone have any tips for getting kids to just TRY new foods? This kid- when he sees something new- he turns his nose up and makes an “ew, gross” face before he even tastes it. For example, last week I was trying to get him to try a blackberry. So i let him play with the blackberry, Mommy tried one and said how yummy it was, I even cut the blackberry in a couple pieces so he would just have to eat a tiny little bite, etc. Well, as soon as he put the blackberry in his mouth, he was already gagging before he put it in, and he threw up. I tried to praise him for at least TRYING something new! That can be scary and it does not happen too often over here . I know you can’t force them to eat anything so I guess I’ll just keep trying???

  10. Nicole

    I’m not above a little white lie to get my kid (she’s almost 6) to eat things she’s decided she doesn’t like. She “doesn’t like” nuts. Tell her they’re ‘crunchies’ in her food? She’s all over them. She “hates” bratwurst, but loves keilbalsa. So, in our house, bratwurst is ‘short keilbalsa’. Instead of burgers she eats ‘non-spicy meatballs’ or ‘sliders’. But it’s always what we’re already eating.

    When all else fails, we douse it in ranch dressing the first couple times she eats it. That stuff is like crack to her, I swear.

    I think shrimp is about the only food we’ve found that she truely doesn’t like by any name.

  11. KosherCorvid

    I know it smacks a bit of making a different meal for everyone, but veggie stir fry is great for picky eaters. Make a big pot of rice for everyone, then everyone gets to (read: has to) pick at least three vegetables to stir fry and toss over their bowl of rice. Since each portion takes about 3 minutes to stir fry, it’s just as quick as making the same chicken for everyone. Someon doesn’t like soy sauce but wants peanut sauce? No problem. Hates cauliflour, loves brocolli? No problem. I still do this with my husband, and it’s one of our favorite meals, though nowadays it’s more of an “Oh, crap, these veggies are about to go bad” response than a way around picky eating.

  12. Kim

    In all the articles I read about how to deal with picky eaters, the eaters in question are usually children. What if your picky eater is a 29 year old male so stubborn he inspects food for flecks of green? Kids are distracted by shapes and names and other such trickery, but adults aren’t. Does anyone have tips on how to deal with the picky eater other than pureeing everything into a substance that can be added into food? That doesn’t always work out so well and I’d rather he actually learn to like the food rather than having to mask it forever. He has sinus issues so I think his sense of taste may partially be to blame since he can’t smell well. But he always claims it’s texture. I think it’s stubbornness and clinging to one bad preparation of veggies as a kid. He recently at Spin Dip…cuz the spinach was buried in cheese…but it’s a start! Help? Please? I’m a foodie dating a man that would live on only pizza and burgers if possible. I’m concerned about his health, recent weight gain, and my sanity! πŸ™‚

    1. Picky Mamma

      You might be interested in http://www.AdultPickyEaters.com. There are thousands of adults who don’t taste food the same way everyone else does but are healthy and working on being happy with themselves in a world of people who just want them to eat “normal” food. I’m one of those people. I’m 36 and eat like a 3 year old. I have 4 healthy children and live a normal life. He can, too!

    2. sarah

      I feel your pain Kim–my 27 year old husband is just like that. No vegetables but potatoes & corn. No casseroles. No pasta, no rice. Nothing mixed together. Occasionally he will eat fruit but thinks that it’s natural state is from can! Ridiculous! Now, in the 9 years that we’ve been together he has tried seafood for the first time and now loves it, and has occasionally tried a few other things (like maybe one new thing a year?) It is SO frustrating, and what drives me most crazy is that his mom says it’s MY FAULT! How in the world am I responsible for the habits she encouraged in him as a child? Bah. Sadly, I just make us separate dinners most of the time. I don’t mind at this point, but I know it will be an issue when/if we have kids. I get my need to cook & try new things out by working with and feeding college students! But i feel your pain πŸ™ Wish I had better encouragement!

  13. Teresa Gray

    When my kids were little they were not allowed to make faces and say I don’t like this until they took one bite. If they didn’t like it then they didn’t have to eat it, BUT they had to fix their own meal. There were times they had cereal or a canned soup no sweets or dessert if they couldn’t eat it. Today they are all adults and are so adventurous in their eating they will try anything because if they don’t like it they don’t have to eat it. My daughter says that is one of the best thing we taught them.

    Funny story that goes with a this…. My youngest son (3 boys then a girl) on night said to me this dinner would have been perfect it was so good except for the stuffing. I made stuffed pork chops after that his were plain, no stuffing. I love that.

  14. Averie (LoveVeggiesandYoga)

    Hi Jenny, first, have fun at BH!! I wish I was going but I am in Aruba. Marla is going and a whole bunch of other friends are going, and I wish I could meet up with everyone but for now, I’m at the beach πŸ™‚

    My 4 year old eats raw kale salads with tofu, she eats every veggie under the sun, she eats edamame, raw desserts, juice pulp crackers, but she also eats Snickers bars and Teddy Grahams. I make most everything from scratch, but I am also not opposed to feeding her typically “american processed snacks” every now and then b/c life is a balancing act.

    The reason she eats the way she does? Growing up in a largely plant-based house, it was eat your raw broccoli or don’t eat kind of thing. I ate this way pregnant, and when she was nursing, so she was used to these flavors from the womb, so to speak..and then I just dont coddle her and cook things differently for her..she eats what we eat, or else, well, there’s always the next meal πŸ™‚ I am not totally hardcore and I will bend a bit, but I dont bend over backwards if that makes sense.

    Great post!!!

    Best of luck with your speaking but I know you’re going to rock it!!

    1. Jenny

      I love it Averie, look at your little ones eating healthy! I know it is possible, thanks for sharing, hope you can come to BHF next year!

  15. Erin A @ A Crafty Cook

    I think trying new things is important, and trying them more than once. If we never give our kids anything new, they won’t know how to react when they get something new. Also if they don’t like something like a vegetable the first time, we shouldn’t give up. Try again. Maybe find a new way to prepare it. They don’t like broccoli on the side? Try making a cheesy broccoli soup maybe they’ll like that, which might just teach them that they actually like broccoli. When I was growing up we didn’t eat a lot of vegetables when we were kids because my mom didn’t like them when she was a kid so she just assumed we wouldn’t like them. As I got to college I discovered a lot of things that I had never tried taste great. Just because you didn’t (or don’t) like something doesn’t mean your kids wont like it too. I’m not a fan of carrots, but my little guy just loves them. You wont catch me eating a carrot stick but I still going to give them to my kid.

  16. Stacy

    I just started a little blog with my kids about what we are fixing together for dinner. We were struggling with dinnertime and pickiness, so I decided to involve them in the preparation. They are also excited to share what we are doing on ‘their own blog’. I don’t usually prepare seperate meals either (although husband and I often spice our’s up with sauces/salsa ect.), but there are times when I have struggled with letting them go hungry when they don’t like what we are having. I usually offer them a fruit, yogurt or string cheese, called “something healthy” at our house. Thanks for all your great ideas, I’m looking forward to trying some out!

  17. lisa {smart food and fit}

    Have fun in ATL!
    Great tips! You are right, it depends on the individual. Some kids and adults, are picky to certain smells, textures, & tastes. Just have to work with them and be patient.
    Hopefully your kid doesn’t grow up to be a picky adult eater like my neighbor!He just turned 50 this year, and still to this day he doesn’t eat his veggies or fruit! He is over weight and is pre diabetic. The sad part is his dad died from uncontrollable diabetes (he was totally non compliant with his diet).
    His wife tries to hide veggies in his food, but he can taste it or hates the texture and then drives himself to a fast food restaurant. At this stage of his life, it’s pretty sad because it comes down to him wanting to change his diet.
    Great topic!

    1. Jenny

      Wow, sad to hear of a grown man that stubborn especially when it is affecting his health! Thanks for sharing.

  18. Chris @ TheKeenanCookBook

    I became curious about cooking and learned to cook because my Mom would cook with me. Even if it was just helping to shred cheese or being given a small piece of dough to work with on the side, I got to “help” prepare many meals. My younger siblings who did not do that are very picky eaters and have no interest in cooking.

    My son is only 8 week old, so his meal options are limited right now ^_^. But I fully intend on bringing him in the kitchen and cooking with him when he is old enough, just like Mom did with me (and we still cook together!)

    1. Jenny

      I agree, it is so important to get the kids in the kitchen with you. Makes such a difference! Good luck with you son πŸ™‚

  19. Rivki Locker (Ordinary Blogger)

    I wish I could join your session. My kids (ranging from 2 – 11 yrs old) are so picky at dinner that I sometimes feel like pulling my hair out. And I am afraid I have been sucked into the path of making multiple dinners. Usually one for the adults and another one for the kids. Do you mind telling me – when you make just one dinner, if your child doesn’t like it, do you offer them a PB sandwich or bowl of cereal instead, or do they go to bed hungry? I struggle with this all the time. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    1. Jenny

      I know how tempting it is to make multiple dinners or offer a PB & J or cereal. I made up my mind that what I make for dinner, is dinner and do not offer other things. It was hard at first, but now my boys will eat about anything I make…..doesn’t mean they don’t complain about it πŸ™‚ Best of luck to you! There will be a live blogger during my session so you can listen live. Go to BlogHer.com Saturday morning, my session is at 10:30 am.

    2. Trista Bytheway

      No, you don’t want to offer them an alternative–it’s really the same thing. A much better option, if you must, is to make sure at least one thing you’re offering for dinner is something they do like. Make sure dinner has multiple options, then they feel like they have some control over what they’re eating. And if they like one thing, you’ll feel better sending them to bed “hungry”. Children are quite hearty and are very rarely hungry!

  20. Lanell

    I have a picky eater who is 15. We have been living with this for his entire life. It is more of a texture thing for him, then the actual taste of things. We have literally sat there and watched him gag on things we made him try. I don’t make seperate meals for him, but I do have to consider at every meal what he would like. He is pretty good with almost everything but veggies, red meat and cream cheese which is in a lot of my recipes. I try to mask it, be he seems to know that anything creamy, well…. is cream cheese. We are working on those still. My experience is that sometimes, they never grow out of it no matter how much you try, try, try again. Thank goodness my other two would eat the kitchen sink if I let them.

    1. Jenny

      I have some a niece that gags on nearly everything my sister will offer her if it is not what she “likes.” It’s sad when it gets that bad! My theory is just keep trying and hopefully one day the hard work will pay off πŸ™‚

  21. Jen @ keepitsimplefoods

    Funny, the pickiest eater I know is my (soon to be) father-in-law. He doesn’t like veggies or chicken or anything green. He loves fried food and isn’t at all adventurous. And to him, no meal is complete without meat. But, I have to say that I find leading by example seems to work on him. If I try something green, he’ll give it a shot. If I make something “super adventurous” like veggie enchiladas, he’ll at least try them. Nagging doesn’t work. Just have to show those picky eaters that what you’re eating is delicious and they’re missing out by not trying it!

    1. Jenny

      The father-in-law?! Too funny. Yah, I find the nagging doesn’t help a whole lot. I like the leading by example, that is so important! Thanks for sharing πŸ™‚

  22. Tonya

    We live by the “Picky Eaters Are Made, Not Born” principle. When my oldest was 2, she ate, fresh from the garden Tomato, sweet onion and cheese sandwiches every day for lunch. She had no idea that kids weren’t “supposed” to like that stuff. We introduce new foods and continue to re-introduce them until everyone can tolerate the item. We also work towards “Happy Plates” by starting toddlers with 1 T. of each item, per year (for example, my 3 year old gets 3 T. or 3 pieces of each item we are serving for dinner). When they achieve a Happy Plate we hoop and hollar and give out Happy Plate Hugs. You’d be surprised what a great movtivator something so that simple can be! πŸ™‚

    1. Tonya

      Oh my goodness, can you tell I had a toddler on my lap distracting me? LOL πŸ™‚ That should say “You’d be surprised what a great motivator something that simple can be!”

      1. Lorri

        Wonderful Idea!!! My eaters are grown up… but I have a friend and sister–in-law with a picky eater this look like a great trick!

  23. Cooking with Michele

    I work with local school gardens programs – we pick what’s ready to be harvested and cook either right there in the garden or in the school classroom. My experience is that when kids grow it, they are more likely to want to try to eat it. Especially if they get to help cook it too! Looking forward to meeting you in person in Atlanta this weekend!

  24. The Souper

    From past experience feeding a family with one picky eater, keep the food simple and sometimes finger foods work well.
    Roll chicken tenders in eggbatter and Panko crumbs, little bit of olive oil and BAKED is a pleaser for the crunch factor. (You get to control salt content and seaonings: paprika for color; Chili powder if spicy is favorable.)
    Baking keeps calories/fat level lower than fried.
    Quality of poulty is under your control, not take-out meals.
    If you can sneak in zucchini and/or sweet potato fries (baked with olive oil, salt and made crispy) then you have a winner meal for a picky eater πŸ™‚

    Cut carrots,celery,red peppers and cucumbers in stick-form for easy pick up with fingers. Have little side cups filled with a couple of salad dressings you might offer to see what a picky eater chooses. If offered daily and a picky eater sees other family members dipping in the fun, hopefully this inspires the picky eater to join in the eating fun πŸ™‚

    The Souper

  25. Rachel @ Rachel's Recipe Reviews

    My little one has just started on baby food, but I can already tell she is going to be a picky one! Have fun at BlogHer Food (I am SO jealous of everyone going), and good luck speaking (I am NOT jealous of that!).

  26. Beara

    When I was a child my Mom expected me to eat whatever she made. I wasn’t allowed to turn my nose up or say food was “gross.” I just trusted her and when I asked, “Mom do I like that.” She replied, “YES!” So, I gobbled it all up because Momma said I was supposed to like it! I wonder if this will work with my little one?!?! Ha, if I should be so lucky!

  27. Gwenevere

    I got into the more than one meal a night funk because of my kids allergies, everyone is allergic to something else and even though they wanted to try something they couldn’t. I noticed this became a problem when they started complaining about food they could eat and doing so on a regular basis. That has since stopped…we’re still working on the “No thank you” part, my kids are food snobs and can be quite “outspoken” when it come to food they do not want to eat.

    1. Jenny

      Ahhhh, they can be tricky can’t they?! Lol. Glad you are back to one dinner per night πŸ™‚ Yes, mine are outspoken too πŸ™‚

  28. Karin

    I’m always surprised when I hear people make several dishes for the different people in their house. I never do that either. My children aren’t picky, all three of them. Ofcourse they had their times in which they were difficult about their food, but that’s ok. We always let them taste one time every meal and if they don’t like something they can leave it. For then.

    What helped here a lot by the way was the fact that I read somewhere that tastebuds, especially those of little children, can need up to 12 times of tasting to get used to a certain taste. When I told that to my little ones (now 6, 4 and 2) they were fascinated. And started to taste even more enthusiastically. “Nope, still don’t like it” “Nope, still don’t like it” “Hmmm, I’m starting to like it a little more”….

    Ofcourse now grandpa, who hates peanut butter, has to take a little bite off their sandwhich every time they are eating that. Because “well, opa, your tastebuds need a couple more bites to get used to this and then you will like it!” Hahaha.

    1. Jenny

      I have just recently heard about the whole “more taste buds” in kids. It is really interesting isn’t it? Love that you were persistent and love the grandpa story, lol!!

  29. Robin

    Jenny, I like your “No Thank You” policy…at least they tried it. I was a very picky eater myself when I was a child and things changed when I got older (not everything mind you, but I eat a lot of things now I never did). I remember smearing broccoli on a biscuit to mask the taste! Have fun at BlogHer.

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