How to Help a “Picky” Eater

Being “picky” is common among young children. All children need time to explore and experience new foods in order to eat them. Some kids may get “stuck” in a pattern of being picky. As a parent, this can be worrisome or frustrating, but it doesn't have to be! If you provide your child with repeated exposure to food without pressure, this will allow them to be around food, try bites, and watch others around them eat the food. Making mealtimes and food a relaxed experience will help them achieve the goal of eating new foods over time.

How to Help a Picky Eater

Some practical tips:

  • Have regular meals and sit-down snacks so your child can be hungry, but not starved, at mealtime. 
  • When planning meals, make sure to have one or two foods your child enjoys while also introducing other foods. Don't make special meals for your child if they refuse to eat the food you prepared
  • Keep meal times low-stress. Don't bribe or reward for foods eaten. Don't make a big deal, force, or punish a rejection of eating certain foods. Do set guidelines for behavior at the table including not whining, asking for other foods, or saying food is “yucky”, and stick with those expectations.
  • Stay neutral in your words about your child’s eating. Try not to use the word “picky” in describing their eating or food choices.
  • Sit down and eat with them, don’t just feed them. Make mealtimes a time to talk and connect with your child.

Be family-friendly in your meal-planning. Prepare meals that everyone can find something they enjoy.

Family-friendly meal planning ideas:

  • Offer fun-to-dip foods for small children (cucumber spears with dressing, carrots and hummus, fruit and yogurt dip, etc.)
  • Allow kids to “build” their own meal. Put out ingredients for a healthy wrap and allow kids to decide what and how much will go on their wrap.
  • Make food fun! A snowman made of fruit, a “dinosaur” shake made of spinach and fruit, or a plate of “baby” carrots with some guacamole dip to add as a fun green hat.

Possible nutrient deficiencies to be aware of:

  • Protein
  • Calcium
  • Folate
  • Iron
  • Vitamin D

Favorite resources:


This is not intended for medical advice.

Post by Stephanie Long, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Educator

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