November 21, 2013

10 Tips to Grow a Non-Picky Eater

Hello readers of Cropped Stories! I'm Alicia and I blog over at A Sweet Fragrance. My family and I are American-born but live as expats over in SE Asia. I blog about our life overseas, recipes I attempt to make while substituting lots of ingredients, projects I do around the house, "tot school" lessons I teach to my toddler, and lessons I learn through parenting and walking with the Lord. I hope you'll stop by my blog for a visit!

Is there anything quite more frustrating than a child who doesn't want to eat anything you put in front of him? Not even a nibble! I know of this frustration very well. Not only am I (unintentionally) raising a picky eater, I grew up being a very selective eater myself. Unfortunately, I can't blame my child's eating habits on genetics. Whether I want to admit to it or not, I'm the one who has created these picky tendencies of his.

Like I said, it was definitely unintentional. I don't know of any parent who purposely trains their children to eat a diet based on a food pyramid of goldfish, gummy bears, and fruit loops. Maybe you thought it would just be "for this one time" or "just to keep him quiet". Before you know it, you get further and further away from that bright shining window of opportunity when your little baby will put just about anything in his mouth (even when it doesn't belong there)!

Some of you reading this right now might have a picky eater at home who is 3, 10, or entering the teen years. You might be thinking, "Great, I've long since passed that window of opportunity. I guess there's no hope for my child now." Stop thinking that nonsense right now. If your picky eater is still living under your roof, there's still hope!

I'm by no means an expert, but I have quite a bit of experience in the arena of gradually changing the habits of my toddler. It's not a 3-day "quick fix" but it is attainable. That's why, as a mother who can totally sympathize with the feeling of wanting to wave the white flag each time I sit at the table to eat with my child, I want to share with you 10 techniques that I have tried which have proven successful while trying to help my child enjoy a broad range of foods.

1. Make sure you're child is eating what you're eating. No more cooking a healthy meal for the whole family and then throwing some chicken nuggets and fries in the oven for your picky eater. If you want your children to eat a wide range of foods, then serve them the same plate of food that the rest of the family is eating. Plus, you don't need that added stress of cooking two different meals. Picky eaters will never try new things if you're constantly serving them only the foods they prefer to eat.

2. Eat at least one meal a day together as a family. Just one. If you want to gradually add to the number, that is completely up to you. Also, notice I said meal not dinner. If dinner is the meal that the whole family can eat together at the table, so be it. However, that's not always doable for every family. There are numerous reasons why eating a meal together around a table is beneficial but I'll focus on one benefit for this post: you are modeling to your picky eater how everyone at least tries everything on their plate. Allow your picky-eater(s) to observe how everyone else at the table is eating (and how it's not killing them)!

3. No junk food options in the house. This one is a tough one for me. Confession: I've still not mastered it. However, it really does remove the temptation of filling up on unhealthy snacks, not just for your picky eater, but for everyone else as well. A good rule of thumb that I heard some time ago: "If it's something you want bad enough, you can make it yourself." So, if you want some chocolate chip cookies, make those from scratch. You might think, "Wow, that's a lot of work." Well, that's the point. Chances are, the craving will pass before you ever get around to baking those cookies.  But if it doesn't, making a batch of cookies from scratch is probably healthier than store-bought options. I mean, there's only so much you can do to make a chocolate chip cookie "healthier" but you get my point ;-)

4. The earlier you introduce a food, the better. Ideally, you want to start increasing the variety while they're still babies and getting spoon-fed. Chances are, if you're reading this post, you probably have a child that has passed that stage. Don't despair. There are such terms known as "habituation" and "flavor training". Let's say you've made the decision to have less sugar in your diet. You gradually use less and less until it's not even something you crave anymore. One day you might realize you haven't had a candy bar in a long time so you buy one. After taking one bite of that sweet treat, your taste buds go into sugar shock. Maybe before your sugar-free diet, you were able to eat the whole candy bar without blinking an eye. Now, you can hardly imagine swallowing that one bite. Even though that example was about taking something away from your diet, the same is true for adding to a diet. Continue to expose your picky-eater to the same food, no matter how many times it's rejected, until one day, (s)he finally decides to try it.

5. Introduce a new food paired with a familiar one. This will prevent your child from taking one glance at a plate full of "foreign" food and rejecting it immediately. Reserve a small amount of space on the plate for a new food item. If your child tries it but doesn't care for it, respect his/her opinion. Even adults have certain foods they don't care for. But don't give up on your picky eater just yet! Let's say the food item was carrots and you initially served those steamed. Try preparing the carrots a different way the next time. When I was little, I hated the thought of eating raw carrots. I didn't like the taste nor the texture. Then one day, I remember trying some carrots that my mom cooked with some roast beef in the crockpot. I gobbled those carrots up!

6. Serve up fresh foods. You might be having a hard time convincing your picky eater to try the meals you've cooked. Over and over and over you've tried but with no success. Go back to the basics. Serve your child slices of fruit and vegetables along with some dips (peanut butter, ranch dressing, hummus). You might be surprised at how willing they are to give it a try. I remember one evening while I was preparing dinner, my toddler came up to the kitchen counter, grabbed a slice of raw carrot, and put the whole thing in his mouth. I stopped myself from saying, "No! Wait!" when I realized that my child just ate a CARROT. I stopped everything I was doing and just stood there to see what his reaction would be. To my surprise, he grabbed another carrot, popped it into his mouth, and ran off to play again. Miracles do happen, people!

7. Let your child help in the kitchen. Not only does helping in the kitchen teach some life skills, it also allows your child to be a part of the cooking process. Your child might have a different opinion of the food if (s)he has a part in preparing it. Another perk, my son will actually snack on some of the ingredients (chopped veggies, tomatoes, etc.) as I'm cooking. I don't even care that he's probably filling himself up before dinner, as long as he's filling himself up with healthy stuff.

8. Wait until your child is actually hungry. This might sound like a "duh" tip, but it took me longer than necessary to realize that my son was filling up on milk and small snacks throughout the day. So it's no wonder I got fits of frustration every time I tried to sit him down to eat. Obviously, he's not going to try to eat anything, not even the food he likes, if he doesn't have an appetite. Figuring out when your child has an appetite might take a few days, especially if you have to tweak the snacking habits and cut down the amount of drinks per day. Once you have a better idea of when your child is ready to eat, you'll find you have better luck at getting new foods to go down the hatch (even those leafy greens)!

9. Plan your meals in advance. While I'm on the topic of planning, allow me to be the one billionth person to recommend that you plan your meals in advance. I know for some this sounds like too daunting of a task. Just so you know, the phrase "in advance" doesn't have to mean a month or even a week of planning. For some of you, this might mean taking it one day at a time. At the end of each day, think about what you want to do for tomorrow. We all know weeknights can be frantic and it's tempting to just fall back on unhealthy, go-to options (which inevitably reinforce our children's picky eating habits). Believe you me, weeknights will seem a lot less crazy when you realize you've already got meals planned. That is one less thing to worry about and I'm always a fan of less worry. Aren't you?

10. Make the process of trying new foods fun and informative. This looks different depending on the age of your child. For older kids, you can pull out a map or globe and pick a country to learn more about (including the cuisine that is special for that particular area of the world). For younger children, you can let them try eating food with different utensils, like a toothpick or chopsticks made especially for children. Sometimes, I let my son pretend he's a little puppy. I let him crawl around on his hands and feet and then I call him over and say, "Ok little puppy, it's time to take another bite." He always does and even comes back for more! Another tip that I remember hearing was don't say "Just try it. It's good." Imagine you're in a foreign country and a friend of yours puts a plate of something very strange in front of you and says "Just try it, it's good!" That doesn't necessarily convince you that this strange-looking food is worth trying. The same is true for children who don't want to try new foods. I thought it was crazy advice when I first heard it, but one woman said to "tell a story about the food". I rolled my eyes and scoffed...until one day when I got desperate enough for my son to try chicken. I told him a short, life story of a chicken. When I offered him the piece of chicken afterwards, he stuck it right into his mouth!

As I said before, picky eaters cannot be transformed into foodies overnight. It does take a strong commitment and patience on your part. These are 10 techniques that worked for our family out of the dozens of other tips that I've read over time. We found what worked for us by trial and error. Don't get discouraged when one technique doesn't work for your child. Just try something new and make a mental note to repeat a technique if it works. How do you eat an elephant? One. Bite. At. A. Time.

Do you have a child or children at home with a very selective choice in foods? How do you get your children to try new foods? Raise your hand if you've experienced hair loss during the process of getting your child to just take a small bite of something new ;-)

If you missed my previous post, The Best Frosted Banana Bar Recipe, I hope you’ll check it out!  These bars are seriously delicious!

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In need of some blogging tips?  I can serve that up too!  Check out my Anatomy of a Great Post Comment (a list of do and don’t tips)!


  1. This is some great advice! I am the pickiest eater I think you will ever meet. And I mean that. And I hate that too. I wish I were more open to foods and choices. But I am not. However, my husband eats everything and so I knew when my daughter came to the age of starting to eat real foods, I wanted him to let her eat everything he did. I'm so glad he is the cook in our family. I stay out of the kitchen. And now with our son, we just introduced solid foods to him and I'm enforcing the same. Let daddy have him try everything.
    But a lot of the advice you gave we have applied as well.
    We do not eat GMOs so no GMOs in the house for us or the kids. So that pretty much takes care of all junk food. I don't believe in sugar for children anyway...not until about 4 years old.
    But I agree about making it fun! You have to with kids. I think it's a great motivator to try things and get their attention especially with foods.
    I'm sharing this on my social networks for you

    1. Thanks for commenting Rebecca! I was a picky eater for a long time. My husband is like yours...eats just about anything. He's helped me to break out of my picky-eater-shell ;-) Thanks for sharing on your social networks. I appreciate it!

  2. Great tips! I have definitely been there with my now 8 year old. Slowly getting better but still a struggle.
    Can't quite master the no junk food rule though (more for me than anyone else!)


    1. Thanks for commenting! I hear ya about the junk food. I'm such a big snacker so I keep trying to find healthier snacks that I enjoy. Oreos are so good though.... ;-)


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