5 Ways to Encourage Picky Eaters

by Jodie Block on 06/26/2012

A few weeks ago, standing in line at Souplantation, I spied the young boy in front of me who, for someone at a salad bar, was holding a plate conspicuously lacking in vegetables. I pointed to the tomatoes and shriveled up my nose as if to say “Yuck!” And then I dared him to eat one. He picked up a wedge defiantly, and took it all in one bite! I said, “Gross!”  He smiled and joined in my game, pointing to the grated yellow squash and telling me, “I bet you won’t eat that!” I paused for effect, and then I ate it. “You’re next,” I prodded him. “How about some broccoli?” Obviously he wasn’t about to give in, so he grabbed a green floret and munched it down, too.

The boy and I looked at each other, both satisfied with how we’d met this unplanned, friendly challenge head on. He’d shown an old lady that she couldn’t out dare him, and I got a little kid to eat something healthy. The boy’s grandmother stopped by my table on her way out, and let me know that she had been shocked and delighted to see him eat a vegetable. Turns out her grandson has sensory issues and typically refuses foods with texture. Her gratitude got me thinking…how many times a day in how many households are parents struggling to get their kids to eat something good for them?

In my last post, I shared with you some tips to get your kids involved in the kitchen, and to start them on the road to healthy eating. But the truth is that many kids are extremely picky eaters. Even though they come by it honestly – their hypersensitive taste buds make many foods adults find inoffensive far less tolerable for them – their limited “likes” make feeding them seem like an impossible task. Here are a few more suggestions to get your picky eater on board at mealtime.

Tip #1: Give your child some control.

Give your child a say in the dinner menu by letting them choose the vegetable or side dish. Having decision making power will boost their sense of self, and get them excited about the meal. Just make sure that each choice is a healthy one, so they can’t go wrong!

Tip #2: Model good habits.

If your child sees you trying new foods, particularly healthy foods, they may be more inclined to try new foods on their own. Don’t discuss their picky habits anymore, it only draws negative attention to them. Instead, give them a role model worth emulating by being adventurous in YOUR healthy choices.

Tip #3: Dip it.

If your kids won’t eat vegetables, try experimenting with dips! My children love hummus, salsa, homemade yogurt-based dressing, non-fat ranch, guacamole, warm peanut butter with soy sauce and garlic, and pureed cottage cheese (that you can sweeten with pureed fruits). You can have an array to help them find their favorites, and again, if every option is a healthy one, then you know they’ll make a smart choice.

Tip #4: Provide kid sized portions.

There is nothing scarier to a child at mealtime than a mountain of “green trees” on their plate – even to a child who likes broccoli. Serve smaller amounts so your child can manage the portion. Instead of full stalks, present a few small florets. They may even surprise you by asking for more!

Tip #5: Reward with praise, encouragement and if necessary a star chart.

Set up a visual reminder of their goals by hanging a star chart in the kitchen. Each time they try a new food, add it to the list and mark it with a star. Let them know that the magic number is ten, because studies show that a child needs at least ten separate exposures to a new taste before their brain can decide if they like it or not. Let your child know they have the right to choose what they will and will not eat…but they have to try it ten times first!

Just a little more food for thought from the Sneaky Dietitian :)


{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Caren June 26, 2012 at 10:57 AM

I feed my 2 boys, broccoli daily as an appetizer to dinner. they are usually really hungry and I rarely have a fight for them to eat it. I do add a small pat of butter for some flavor and fat. I totally agree on the keep trying advice, even if it is just tiny bites, they finally will eat it if you keep introducing them. Also we do “dino bites” where the boys act like dinos, making loud crunching sounds, crunching carrots and cucumbers with their sharp teeth- we make it fun


Jodie Block, MS,RD, CDN June 26, 2012 at 3:52 PM

That’s great Caren, I love it! I will use the dino bite idea with the kids in my cooking classes this summer :)
You are right, the best time to get nutritious food into your child is when they have an appetite… it’s amazing how much more willing they are to try something new when they are really hungry.


Susan Crown July 13, 2012 at 9:11 AM

Great article. I wish my son were in line with you that day. :)


Jodie Goodman Block July 14, 2012 at 5:05 AM

I was back at Souplantation on Wednesday with may daughter and her friend. As we entered, I said, “I wonder if we could eat a rainbow?” and then followed up with a game of pointing and saying…that would cover green…go ahead…let’s see you BOTH eat it. And they looked at each other, giggled and next thing I new I got both girls eating 4-5 tastes of vegetables they never eat. My daughter’s friend’s faces had us cracking up…but she tried, and it was fun :)


Brian Cohen November 26, 2012 at 11:45 PM

The smaller portion idea really worked. Our three year old has a zero appetite when it comes to dinner so we tried just giving her a tiny amount of food. She must see it as less threatening as it goes down pretty fast.


Jodie November 27, 2012 at 12:20 AM

Awesome news! Glad it helped.


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