10 Effective Ways to Get Picky Kids to Eat

January 17, 2024

by cora gold, guest contributor

Picky eating in children can happen for a variety of reasons, but regardless the reason the result is often doubling down on food favorites while avoiding trying new foods. It’s common and as it is influenced by different factors, it can make mealtimes challenging for parents. Here are helpful ways to get your picky kids to eat and hopefully, expand their palate: 

1. Establish Regular Meal and Snack Times

Picky eating often begins at the age of two. That’s why having regular meal and snack times for your kids at an early age is essential. 

It gives them a routine, making them feel secure and knowing what to expect during meals. This helps form healthy eating habits and keeps them physically and emotionally well.

2. Avoid Pressuring or Forcing

When it comes to meals, avoid pressuring or forcing. It's imperative to avoid coercion or punishment during mealtimes

Instead of making a child eat a specific food, let them choose from healthy options. Say, “Do you want broccoli or carrots for dinner?” This gives them a choice without pressure.

Keep things positive by praising their efforts and making mealtimes enjoyable with stories or chatting about their day. This creates a relaxed atmosphere around food.

3. Introduce New Foods Gradually

Gently introduce new foods by applying the “one bite rule.” For instance, encourage your child to take just one bite to explore the taste when presenting a new food.

Reassure them that it’s okay if they don’t like it — the goal is to expose them to new flavors gradually. Over time, repeated exposure helps familiarize children with different tastes and textures, increasing the likelihood of becoming more open to trying and eventually enjoying a broader range of foods (keeping in mind that our tastes change over time).

4. Create a Diverse Plate

Create a diverse plate by including the following: 

  • Fruits: Berries, apples, oranges, and melons.
  • Variety of vegetables: Spinach, carrots, and bell peppers.
  • Whole grains: Brown rice or quinoa.
  • Protein sources: Chicken, beans, and seafood such as fish and shrimp.

If your child insists on eating the same foods all the time, try to introduce alternatives in ways they might still enjoy. Many kids like chicken tenders, so why not try serving “salmon tenders,” complete with their favorite dipping sauce. Seafood is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which can promote brain development in infants and children, so it’s important not to give up if your child rejects it the first time. 

5. Involve Children in Meal Planning and Preparation

Encourage your child to pick fruits or vegetables that they enjoy for snacks or meals. When grocery shopping, let them choose a new vegetable or fruit to try. 

In the kitchen, involve them in simple cooking tasks, such as washing vegetables, stirring ingredients or assembling their own sandwiches. This hands-on approach empowers them to make healthier choices. It creates a positive connection to food through participation in meal planning and preparation. 

6. Present Food Creatively

Enhance the appeal of meals by presenting food creatively. Use a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables to create visually appealing arrangements on the plate. 

Explore fun shapes and food art such as cutting fruits into exciting shapes or playfully arranging vegetables. Turn a sandwich into a smiley face or create a fun rainbow to spark your child’s curiosity. 

7. Offer Healthy Alternatives to Favorite Foods

Swap sugary desserts like ice cream and sprinkles with a nutritious alternative like Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruit. Yogurt is excellent for boosting mental health because it releases amino acids like phenylalanine. 

When making sandwiches, use whole-grain bread or wraps instead of refined options. Offering healthy alternatives helps instill good eating habits. It ensures your children still enjoy their preferred flavors in a more nutritious way. 

8. Incorporate Food-Related Activities

Get kids involved in growing veggies through gardening and have fun cooking or baking together. Planting seeds and watching them grow teaches them about vegetables and hands-on kitchen activities create a connection to the food they eat.

9. Make Meals Enjoyable

Make meals enjoyable by encouraging family meals and social interaction. Try having family dinners where everyone sits together. Sharing family meals reduces stress for 91% of parents, while 84% of adults desire more frequent meals with their loved ones.

Share stories or discuss favorite topics to encourage social interaction. Create a pleasant atmosphere by turning off screens during meals to minimize distractions. This provides positive dining experiences, helping family members connect and appreciate your food together.

10. Be a Role Model

Be a role model by demonstrating healthy eating habits. Show enthusiasm for trying new foods yourself. 

Express excitement about trying a new vegetable and make it a positive experience. When kids see you enjoying various nutritious foods, they are more likely to follow suit and develop healthy eating habits.

Helping Picky Kids Eat 

These 10 strategies can help picky kids eat better. Start by taking small steps and making food fun. You can overcome picky eating challenges and promote a positive connection with nutritious foods.

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