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25 Tips for Your Picky Eater

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Getting your picky eater to try new foods can be a major challenge. Luckily, there are several ways you can change their habits, making mealtime a breeze!

Presentation is key.  You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to throw together a kid-friendly presentation. Even simple changes, like a “special grown-up plate” for healthy food, or letting your child eat fruit on a stick can make a world of difference. Arranging fruits and veggies into a smiley face will make kids much more likely to eat and enjoy it. Try fruits and veggies in different textures and sizes.

Make meals family-style. Family-style means that each food item is placed on the table in a serving dish, and each person helps themselves to whatever items they desire. According to Eshun Mott, author of Whining and Dining: Mealtime Survival for Picky Eaters and the Families who Love Them, a picky eater will be less picky if he or she can serve their own plate. Additionally, this will greatly decrease the stress surrounding mealtime. Letting your child feel in control of their own plate eliminates the power-struggle that results from controlling your child’s meals. When kids are more relaxed, they are more likely to try new foods on their own. Kids can also get very excited about eating your food, so if family-style isn’t an option, letting them try food off your plate may have a similar effect!

Show them someone cool likes the food. My nephew was refusing to eat an apple I offered him, but when an older “cool” role model of his started eating one not five minutes later, my nephew was literally begging if he could have an apple, too. Check out the Super Crew kid’s site for more ideas.

Meet them halfway. It may take a few years before your child eats the healthy foods you’d love for them to enjoy. In the meantime, you can take small steps to make the foods they do like better for them. For instance, bake half regular/half sweet potato fries in the oven, switch to whole wheat pasta, make fruit smoothies for dessert or freeze fruit pops for a healthy snack, or use olive oil on pasta instead of butter. These small changes can add up, and are a great place to start.

Talk about food’s benefits. Little boys will eat veggies and drink milk if they know it will make them big and strong or “taller than daddy.” Little girls will eat veggies containing biotin if they know if will make their hair grow long and pretty. Don’t be afraid to explain to your kids why it’s important to eat healthy foods in a fun way they can relate to and appreciate.

Use a food chain. Healthy eating won’t happen overnight. It’s best to ease your child into the foods you’d like them to be eating. Feeding specialist and author Cheri Fraker has a technique called food chaining, in which picky eaters are slowly offered foods similar to those they like until they gradually expand their palate. For instance, if your child likes French fries, offer her a different type of fry. Then move on to baked potato puffs. Once he or she is comfortable, head on to baked potatoes, followed by mashed potatoes. Next, add gravy to the menu. Follow that with potato pot pie, and eventually, your child will be eating quiche!

Don’t force a food if they can get the benefits elsewhere. Don’t force your child to try meat if they enjoy eggs or yogurt. The important thing is that they have a balanced diet of protein, fat, carbs, and vitamins/minerals. If they don’t like one source of the nutrients, try another. Even dipping crackers in peanut butter or hummus is a source of protein! While on the topic of protein if your child is a carboholic, try a chicken or meat-filled ravioli to hide protein in their typical pasta dish!

Try different veggies. Kids have very few preconceived notions of new foods. Just because your child doesn’t like the typical peas and carrots, that does not mean that they won’t enjoy other, less common, veggies. By offering them new veggies they’ve probably never even heard of, they won’t even know they are veggies, and may really like it. Who knows, your child may even enjoy veggies you don’t like! Check out fun and unique ways to serve up vegetables.

Offer irrelevant choices. As I mentioned above, kids are more likely to try new foods if they feel in control of their meal. By allowing your child to decide if they want the blue plate or the red plate, you’re giving them control. These simple, easy choices that don’t make a difference to you, mean a lot to kids.

Dip solves everything. Kids love dipping their food in stuff. Ketchup, cheese, a healthy dressing, anything. They love the fun of dipping. Let them pair new foods with dip! Check out these delicious sandwich spreads which also serve as tasty dips.

Let them have fun. Letting your child cookie-cut their piece of turkey into a fun shape or make a smiley face out of sauce will help them enjoy eating! Let them have a little bit of fun with it, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the time with them too.

“No thank you” bites. These may not work for the more stubborn picky eaters, but it’s worth a shot if it isn’t too stressful. Make a rule that your child can refuse to eat any food, but only after taking three “no thank you” bites.

Give clear praise. Praise can be tricky with kids. If your child tries a new food, even only a bite, they should receive praise for it. For instance, “It is so great that you tried eggplant!” However, if you base the praise on how it made you feel, rather than your child’s action, it sends a different message. For example, saying, “I’m so happy you ate the eggplant,” suggests to him or her that they aren’t in control.

Kids are gross, especially little boys.  If a little boy knows that beans and green veggies will help him..ahem..pass gas, trust me, he’s eating it with a smile on his face.

Eat the Rainbow. Make eating vibrant fruits and veggies a game! Challenge your kids to “eat the rainbow” weekly or daily, try printing the Super Crew Color tracker out and track your colors for the week.

Let them help! Your kids will feel a sense excitement about their food if you allow them to help you in the kitchen. Even just a few simple tasks can make them feel really proud of what they’ve made. Letting your children grow their own food will have a similar effect. Your kids will be thrilled to try tomatoes if they planted them and watched them grow. Find out how to make cooking with the kids easy and fun with the Super Crew’s Guide to Cooking with the Kids.

Keep portions small. Kids are small, so their plates look bigger in their eyes than yours. A big heaping of veggies is daunting to a little kid. A smaller, less intimidating portion is easier for them to consider eating. See our kids portions from ages 4-18.

Get a blender. A blender can be your best friend when it comes to really stubborn kids. Pureeing fruits and veggies or making smoothies and popsicles allows you to hide nutrients in a fun snack they’ll enjoy. A strawberry smoothie tastes exactly the same with or without a handful of raw spinach, some blueberries, or some Greek yogurt thrown in.

Cut out snacking right before a meal. It’s okay for your child to be hungry before a meal! If a kid sits down for dinner hungry, they are much more likely to eat the food offered to them than if they just had a snack. By cutting down on snacks, your child will fill up on healthy dinner foods rather than crackers and juice boxes. Kids will also learn to appreciate food more if they sit down hungry for a meal. Be sure not to cut out all snacks, since kids are growing rapidly and have small stomachs, but learn where snacks solve hunger versus boredome.

Be a good eater! If your children watch you eat healthy foods, they will be more likely to eat those foods. Your children watch you constantly and model your behavior. Eating a wide variety of new and healthy foods will encourage them to as well. Take steps to be a healthy parent role model.

Don’t call your kid a picky eater. Even if you are saying it to someone else, the more you label them as a picky eater, the more you and your child will believe and accept it. Keeping a strong positive attitude about their eating habits will help both of you keep your cool during stressful eating situations.

Stand your ground. Don’t enable your kids to challenge your food offers. It is so easy to give up and make yet another pasta with butter when there’s a screaming kid telling you to, especially after a long day. Giving in to them even a little will show them that screaming allows them to get the food they want without even trying the new food. Even if it’s just a single bite, you’ve won and can give them the pasta.

Stay calm. Getting angry or upset with your child over food will not solve any of their picky eating problems. It’s frustrating, yes, but fighting back will only escalate the stress. Stand your ground while keeping a calm demeanor, no matter how difficult it may seem. I believe in you! Discover ways to parent kids at meal time.

Don’t worry! Even if your child isn’t eating the foods you want them to, or as frequently as you’d like, they’re not going to starve! They will grow quickly, and as they grow, they will try new foods and will eat more regularly. Don’t sweat their picky eating enough to let it upset you.

Seek a dietitian. If your child’s eating really is becoming a problem and you’ve tried what feels like everything, there is nothing wrong with consulting a professional. Some kids are picky eaters because of a larger medical issue, so if your child’s eating is affecting his or her health or causing too much stress in your home, call a dietitian. Dietitians can evaluate your child and create a custom plan to address their eating issues. To find a dietitian in your area visit: www.eatright.org



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About the Author

Lisa is a student pursuing a master’s degree in public health nutrition and is enrolled in the coordinated registered dietitian program at the University of Washington, Seattle. She has a BA in human biology from the University of Southern California and currently writes The Skinny on Health, a blog about healthy living, nutrition, and fitness.


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