10 Tips to Help with Picky Eaters

Got picky kids when it comes to food, at least nutritious food? Do your kids try to crawl under the table when they see broccoli on the table? Do they try to slip the dog their squash only to find the dog won’t eat it either? You’re not alone. It seems to be a fairly common phenomenon among households with kids. And, not just young children either. Older kids can be picky eaters as well.

I have been blessed with having both teenagers and younger kids at the same time. Both sets with different dietary needs and different likes and dislikes when it comes to food. My teenage boys are athletic, physical, growing boys. Even though they both look full grown (at 6 feet tall) they are still growing and their bodies, inside and outside, need the right foods to help them with this.

My two younger children have different needs both physically and emotionally when it comes to food. They are both adopted and we’ve had to learn the challenge of dealing with children who have had to go hungry in their past. Hunger can do many things to you emotionally. We’ve had to learn to help our children understand they won’t ever go hungry again.

All of my kids are different eaters with different taste. My 16-year-old son has a sweet tooth that never seems to end. I think sweet teeth would be more like it. It’s a constant struggle to get him to lay off the sweets. My 19 year old could really care less about the sweets. My 9 and 10-year-old are very food focused and just want to eat.

In the process of raising 6 kids (2 of mine are already grown so they and their taste buds are on their wn) I’ve come up with some things that have helped my family over the years.

    1. Respect their appetites – If they really aren’t hungry, don’t try to force them to eat. Don’t bribe them to clean their plates. And please don’t use the starving children speech. Likewise, if your child has a tendency toward overeating, help him or her to understand what it means to be full. We quite often ask one of our younger boys, “is your tummy comfortable?” That’s when you need to stop. Don’t make them feel guilty or bad for how little or much they eat.


    1. Encourage but don’t force – Encourage kids to try new foods but don’t force it on them. They’ll just hate that zucchini even more.


    1. Let them help with the meal planning – That’s easy for me since I own a menu planning service. After the menus are out for that week I will let the whole family decide what we are eating for the week. It makes a huge difference when they have had a say so on what to eat. They don’t always agree, but we manage.


    1. Let them help with the cooking – I hear moms say that they would love to let their kids help in the kitchen but they don’t want to deal with the extra mess. It’s a great bonding time, a time to teach kids responsibility (you helped make the mess, you help clean) and if they cook it they are much more likely to eat it. Trust me, it works.


    1. Have fun with meals – My family LOVES breakfast for dinner. Pancakes, waffles, omelets, you name it. Try having special dipping sauces (Ranch dressing works wonders) for veggies at meal times and snack times. For some reason kids love to dip their food in things.


    1. Give them their own cookbook – There are a lot of cookbooks out there that are geared to kids of all ages. My younger boys love to look at the pictures and plan on the things they are going to make. My youngest one now wants his own apron, chef hat and cooking show. Hmmm….


    1. Become friends with the smoothie – Do you know how much you can hide in a simple smoothie? Lots. And, your little picky eaters will never know the difference. You can pack a lot of nutrition in a smoothie. So what if it’s consumed through a straw?


    1. Set the example – You can’t get your little mini me’s to eat nutritiously when they see you eating McDonalds and Dunking Donuts. Show them how to enjoy clean whole foods.


    1. Pizza, Fries, Sodas, Oh My! – Teenagers are notorious for wanting to live off junk. Mine are no exception. They want their bodies to look good but they want to eat junk. As a parent of teens, it can be a real challenge once they start going off on their own more and more. You aren’t always there to control what they are eating. Plan on having as many sit down meals as possible (sitting down at your own table and not McDonalds) during the week. Your family needs the bonding time as well as the proper nutrition they receive from the home cooked meals.


  1. Just one bite rule – Let your kids know that if they will just take one bite, they don’t have to take another if they don’t like it. Chances are they will decide they do like it and if they don’t now, next week they might. My kids’ taste buds seem to change from week to week.

What are some creative ways you’ve gotten a picky eater to eat? We’d love you to share your suggestions.

Published on: May 15, 2013
About the Author
Photo of Lisa Holcomb

Lisa is co-founder of Build A Menu, an online menu planning website that helps families get their grocery bill under control and helps them to bring “dinner back to the table”. She is an advocate for family meal time, an author, and a public speaker.

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Recent Comments

You are welcome Shani. How great to be able to grow your own herbs and greens! Great way to get kids involved in both the growing and eating. :)

One of my kids just couldn’t deal with “green” UNTIL we started growing our own food. We started easy with herbs. The kids got to harvest whenever we needed some for a dish. Then we started growing romaine, spinach, etc. NOW, he will tell you salad is one of his favorite foods! Mark that off of my Mommy Guilt List. Whew! I never thought I’d see that child eat anything green. Great tips Lisa. I agree force feeding doesn’t work (guilty!) but patience does. Thanks for the article.