Some of the links on this site may be affiliate links. This means, at no additional cost to you, I may be paid a small commission if you follow the links and make a purchase. Learn more here.
So you’ve got a picky eater? Yeah, I’ve been there. In fact, I was a picky eater when I was a kid. My poor mother. I wouldn’t even touch a vegetable without making a “gross” face. Now that I’ve had my share of those moments with my kids, I know how frustrating it can be. Here are some simple tips to help you navigate meal times with a picky toddler.
Has this ever happened to you? You work hard to cook dinner while juggling the kiddos, and you can’t wait to sit down and enjoy the delicious food you made. The table is set with plates, glasses and silverware. You’ve double checked that everything is ready and now it’s your turn to sit down and relax. And then JUST as you’re about to take a bite, your picky eater sees their food and says, “ewww…I don’t want to eat this!”…Does that sound familiar at all?
When you have a picky eater in your family, meal times can be a challenge. Wouldn’t it just be easier to let them eat boxed macaroni and cheese for every meal? Then you wouldn’t have to deal with the complaining and negotiating. Yeah, I get it. I’ve been there…on both sides (sorry mom).
How Do You Know if You Have a Picky Eater?
Sometimes a picky eater is obvious to spot. But maybe you’re not sure if your kid really deserves that label. Here are a few ways to tell (for sure).
- The texture or color of food impacts whether they’ll eat it or not.
- They eat a very limited amount of food. Maybe there’s only a few things that they’re willing to eat.
- They aren’t willing to try new foods.
It’s Just a Phase
Most kids go through a picky phase. This is just part of growing up. As the parent, it’s your job to come alongside them and find ways to encourage healthy eating habits You never know, today might be “magic day” (a phrase my mother-in-law used with her kids). If you’re concerned your child isn’t eating enough food, consult your doctor.
Tips for helping your picky Eater
Before you Eat
Here are some things to do before you even sit down at the table. When you’re planning the meals for the week and preparing the meal, try some of these suggestions.
- When trying something new, make sure there’s something familiar on the plate, too. This can help your kid from getting overwhelmed by all new food on their plate. If there’s one thing that you know they like (often fruit in my house), they might eat the familiar item and then move on to something else without a fuss.
- Let your kids help in the kitchen. Young kids can add ingredients, stir the bowl, or “chop” with their kid knife. Here’s a list of kid cooking tools to make it fun. For older kids, let them read the recipe and measure ingredients.
- Let your picky eater be your taste tester. This works really well with my kiddos. Before I dish up their plate, I ask them to help me taste the food and see if it needs anything else. My four year old says, “it needs a little salt” every time! And then she already knows what to expect when she sits down at the table.
- Give your kid a say – let them pick a meal each week. Sometimes kids just want a little more control of their lives. Let them help you meal plan by picking one meal that they really want to eat.
While you eat
Try these tips when you sit down at the table to help your picky eater. Remember it’s just a phase and won’t last forever.
- Make it fun – A fussy toddler can often be transformed into a giggling kid pretty quickly when their food starts talking to them about how much they want to go in their bellies.
- Lead by example. Let them see you eating the same food that’s on their plate. And tell them how much you like it!
- Reward with food they like. If they eat all their noodles and want another serving but they haven’t touched their broccoli, you can “reward” eating broccoli with noodles. Now, this might not always be a good decision. They might catch on and start expecting rewards in other areas. But we’ve successfully used this method with our four year old. So far, it works well when we stick to non-dessert items as rewards. If we start talking about sweet things, interest is often lost on the meal and the focus is on dessert.
- Be patient with them. Remember it’s just a phase. If you’re calm and patient, they’re more likely to be too.
After you eat
After you’re done eating and between meal times, talk with your kids. Educate and encourage them to make healthy choices with food.
- Explain the food groups and that a balanced diet will help them grow big and strong. It’s helpful to some kids to understand why they need to eat healthy food. If you put it in terms they understand, they might be more motivated. Try telling them, “this meat will help your muscles grow big and strong” or “this avocado helps your brain so you can learn and have exciting adventures”.
- Don’t give up. I know meal times can feel like an endless battle. And maybe you’re feeling like you’ll never get your kids to eat a vegetable ever again. They will. Just keep at it. You can do it, you’re doing great!
Do you want to hang these on the fridge? You can find a PDF of these tips in the Free Resource Library. Scroll down to the bottom of this page to get access.