Top Ways to Feed Picky Eaters

Stop the Food Fights and Start Enjoying Family Mealtimes Again

Believe it or not, if you've got picky eaters at home, not every meal has to turn into a food fight. Check out these practical tips that will help you say goodbye to mealtime battles with your preschooler.

Change the Chosen Ones

Food arranged in the shape of a fish on plate
Marti Sans/Stocksy United

You may want to scream when your preschooler asks for the same chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwich every meal, but for kids this age, Comfort is key. The trick is building on these foods to create new favorites by adding a twist. Got a peanut butter lover? Use it to fill celery stalks and top with raisins for some "bumps on a log." Try adding chopped tomatoes or ground turkey to that macaroni and cheese for "cheeseburger pasta."

Variety is the Spice of Life

If you keep serving your preschooler the same foods each night because you know she'll turn her nose up at something new, it's time to change tactics. Although it might be disheartening when she refuses to eat broccoli again, it's a good idea to keep at it. By offering new foods with their old favorites, your preschooler may become more likely to try. The more often you put the new food on the table, the more familiar with it she becomes and may eventually give it a shot. Remember though, not every person likes every food. So if your little one tries squash and doesn't like it, it doesn't mean she'll say no to parsnips.

Color Their World

There is a rainbow of food choices out there just waiting for your preschooler to try. Make his plate as visually pleasing as possible, for example, pairing bright red tomatoes with brown meatloaf and orange sweet potatoes. Draw attention to the different hues and encourage him to find out just want "purple" (eggplant) tastes like. Ask him what color he'd like to have for dinner the next night and do your best to accommodate.

Do Some Behind-the-Scenes Strategizing

Baking a cake? Use applesauce instead of oil. Making tomato sauce? Add in some chopped broccoli or red and green peppers. Sprinkle some granola on yogurt and don't make a milkshake, make a fruit smoothie complete with yogurt. It's not being sneaky, it's making your recipes healthier and is good for your whole family, not just your little one.

From Picky Eaters to Budding Chef

Get your child in on the act from grocery shopping to preparing some simple meals. The more involved they get, the more likely they are to get excited about mealtime. Even a 3-year-old can rinse vegetables or snap string beans. Let older kids add ingredients or (carefully) mix batters and sauces that are not on the stove. While you are shopping, ask your child what types of foods she likes to eat. Let her pick the vegetable that will be accompanying that night's dinner and remember to share her good work with the family that night, praising her choices and hard work.

Set a Good Example for Your Picky Eaters

This is a simple one. If you eat lots of good foods, so will your preschooler. Having a snack? Make sure it's a healthy one and try to avoid eating about an hour before mealtime. When you are at the table, turn off the television and make sure the focus is on the meal, not a toy or a book or a magazine. Food behavior patterns that begin in childhood last a lifetime and it's your job as a parent to make sure the right ones are set.

Banish the Bribing

We all do it. "If you don't finish your corn, you won't have any dessert." But although it might work, you are teaching your child that the dessert is the best part of the meal. Even if he doesn't clear his plate, serving dessert to your child might not be such a bad idea. Does it have to be cake or cookies? Try serving fresh berries or popcorn as an after-meal snack.

Stop the Snacks

Impose a moratorium on all snacks and juices for at least one hour before mealtime. If she's hungry when she gets to the table she may be more likely to eat what you put in front of her. Make sure you serve snacks at the same time each day and keep them healthy.

Make Sure Fun is on the Menu

Blueberry pancakes and bacon for dinner? Why not? Serving hamburgers? Try shaping them with cookie cutters. Veggies on the menu? Add a dipping sauce on the side. If dinner is a stressful affair, chances are not only will your preschooler dread the meal, but he won't eat. Make sitting down at the table a fun time where the family can share news of the day. The more relaxed he is, the more likely he is to eat.

Know When to Let Go

This could be the hardest part of all but it's really important that you respect your child when she says she isn't hungry. It will do no good for your or your child to force food. At this age, most young children only eat when they are hungry and it takes a lot less to fill a small stomach than you may realize. If you are really concerned that your child's picky eating habits are interfering with her growth, give the pediatrician a call.

Continue Reading