Ways To Help Picky Eaters

For Picky Eaters, the Struggle Is Real

Toddler girl turning head away refuse to eat
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Dealing with a kid who's a picky eater can be miserable for both the kid and the parents. Why does even happen? Sometimes children just hate the taste or texture of certain foods and absolutely refuse to eat them. Some kids don't want to try anything new. Then again, for some children, it might just feel like eating or not eating food is one thing they can control in their ever-changing little lives.

Whatever the reason, find you have a kid who is a picky eater. I get that -- in fact, I was one of the worst picky eaters ever, and that pickiness lasted well into my adulthood. Eventually, though, I learned to love almost all foods (well, maybe not black olives or dill pickles), so there's always hope.

I'm pretty sure I was close to being a 'worst-case scenario' and most kids get over their pickiness long before I did. But, thinking on my past experiences, I believe I can offer a bit of help for parents and grandparents of picky eaters. 

Don't Start a Food Fight

Mom and daughter fighting over food.
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I know it's stressful and exhausting, and you're frustrated. You've just whipped up a nice healthy snack, and you hope that, please, just this once, your kid will eat it with a smile, all the while beaming in adoration of your effort.

Yeah, no... that doesn't ever seem to happen, does it? And you feel that familiar anger building up inside and the next thing you know you're shouting at your kid. And she's screaming, crying and yelling back at you.

The easy thing to do is give in and let your little one eat whatever she wants. But, that can't be right, can it?

Here's my take. Maybe, within limits, it is the best thing to do. I mean, if you think this whole healthy eating and trying new foods thing is worth a fight, maybe your child is learning that his boxed mac and cheese only for dinner is worth defending. So the battle begins, and nobody wins.

So don't get into a fight with your picky eater. Take a deep breath, hand over the mac and cheese (for now) and try another method of training your kids to eat better.

Be a Role Model

Mom and son eating together
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Our kids listen to what we say, and they watch what we're doing. I mean, they learn from us that way -- including how and what to eat.

So, if you want your little guy to eat his peas and carrots, that means you better eat them too. Take a look at your diet and how you eat. Are you eating lots of fruits and veggies and high fiber foods every day? Do you choose the grilled chicken instead of the fried chicken when you dine out as a family? Do you complain about your weight in front of your kids, then grab the closest candy bar?

Make healthier choices and be a role model for your kids.

Try Tiny Tastes

Girl Eatig Red Pepper
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One way to get your picky eater to be a bit more adventuresome is to offer a little reward for taking such a culinary risk. Make a game of it, or check out Tiny Tastes.

Tiny Tastes is a tasting game in which kids try teeny tiny bites of foods they don't normally like and they get stickers whenever they eat the foods. The key is to offer one new little bit of unfamiliar food over and again until your child gets used to it. Then, after a number of nibbles, she'll actually start to like it. But, be patient, it takes, at least, ten tries, on average, before a child likes a new food.

The Tiny Tastes pack comes with instructions, a chart, and stickers. I think Tiny Tastes can help a lot of picky eaters. And they have research evidence to show it works, too.

Start With Starchy Veggies

Boy looking at carrots
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Any diet will be improved by adding more veggies, both kids and grown-ups need more because they're high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and typically lower in calories. 

Of course, most picky eaters hate vegetables, so how do you get a picky eater to eat more of them?

I suggest you start with the starchier and sweeter vegetables that are a little easier on young taste buds. Potatoes, corn, carrots, peas, and sweet potatoes are all good candidates. You can try something like the Tiny Tastes method, or you can offer just a small serving of the new vegetable along with the regular meal. With enough mealtime exposure, most kids will start to eat the unknown food.

The reason I suggest beginning with the starchier or sweeter vegetables is that kids will often accept them quickly, and then learning to eat healthy becomes a positive experience. That way, hopefully, the idea of trying some of those slightly bitter vegetables won't seem so scary.

Add Fruits or Veggies to Accepted Dishes

Mac and cheese with zucchini.
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Adding new foods to current favorites might work for some picky eaters. There are a couple of ways to do it. One is to puree something like zucchini, cauliflower or carrots and sneak them into mac and cheese, spaghetti sauce, or whatever. The Sneaky Chef has this method down to an art. 

On one hand, sneaking veggies is an excellent way to get healthy nutrients into your kid, but, on the other hand, it may not help your child learn to try and accept new foods. All in all, though, I don't think it's a bad idea -- and can be good for picky adults too.

The other way to add new foods to old favorites is to add the to a dish without hiding it, or just change the flavor and texture a bit. Think about adding zucchini or spinach to mac and cheese.

I believe that this method can work, but I don't suggest surprising your kid with the new creation. I still remember the day my grandma violated my all-time favorite mashed potatoes with a bunch of peas. I totally wasn't ready for that. So, my advice is to talk to your kids about it and get them to buy into the idea first. And maybe let them pick out a new combination.

Use Tasty Toppings and Dips

Boy eating and doing homework
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Toppings, dressings, dips, and sauces can transform 'yucky' vegetables into yummy snacks and meals. Serve broccoli with cheese sauce and topping green beans with bacon. Make a salad with sweet dressings like French or Russian dressing, or use them as a dip for raw veggies.

Peanut butter is a good topping for celery sticks or apple slices, and plain raw carrots can be dipped in hummus.

I like to add a little caramel sauce to apple slices, so it tastes more like a caramel apple, and strawberries and banana slices can be served with a little drizzle of chocolate syrup.

Over time, your picky eater will learn to enjoy those foods without all the toppings. Just be patient.

Associate Food With Fun

Cute lunches make eating more fun.
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One day when my son was a little kid, he announced that he wanted to live in Japan someday, so he needed to learn to like sushi. My son was not quite as picky of an eater as I was at his age, but I wasn't really certain how well he'd handle sushi -- especially any that featured raw fish. 

Well, to make a long story short, his burning desire to eat all kinds of sushi won over his little taste buds. It was his motivation, and it made the process fun. And he still loves sushi as an adult.

Other ways to make mealtime fun include cute plates and cups, artistic arrangements of foods, make up names for your favorite foods, or maybe go for a few outdoor picnics.

Find a Buddy

Brothers or friends who are eating carrots and celery
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Sometimes no matter how hard we try to explain something to our kids, they just refuse to listen. Maybe the message needs to come from being around someone else, like a trusted friend or older sibling. A friend or sibling who also happens not to be a picky eater.

Invite your picky eater's friends over at snack time. Trying new foods with a friend might help your picky eater relax and realize the new food isn't some horrible thing. I mean, if his best buddy is willing to eat it, it can't be all bad.

Get Your Kid Cooking

Girl in kitchen may learn to be less picky.
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Another good way to get your picky eater motivated to try new foods is to get her involved in the process. Kids love to eat what they help to make, and it's good to prepare family meals together.

Have your picky eater help choose the menu for the next family dinner or maybe go shopping with you. Or, better yet, get your picky eater into the kitchen to start cooking. Even little kids can help out by washing, sorting or stirring, just be careful to keep them away from sharp knives and hot stovetops.

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