Don’t Give Up on your Picky Eater

Feeding a picky eater can be one of the most stressful things a parent has to do. It’s frustrating, worrisome, stressful, annoying, disappointing and downright exasperating at times. It can be really easy to just throw your hands in the air and give up trying to get your picky eater to eat new or healthy foods. After serving something three or four times and having your child refuse to even give it one nibble it might feel like you’ve given it your best shot and it’s time to move on.

But did you know that it can take at least 10 exposures to a new food before it is accepted? That number grows for very picky eaters so the message I want to share with you is not to give up too soon! It’s also important to note that I said exposures, which doesn’t necessarily mean bites of food are even eaten. An exposure might be touching the food, smelling it, licking it. Interacting with new or non preferred foods is building helpful steps towards eating them. Slow and steady is the key when you are training taste buds. I speak from experience; it took me two years to learn to like peppers.

Getting back to the 10 exposures, it is very easy for the 6th or 7th time to feel like a million when you are trying to get your child to try a new food, so it’s really important that you actually keep track of how many times you have offered a new food. Relying on your memory isn’t usually effective for us busy parents!

This chart is really easy to use, just choose the new foods you’d like your child to keep trying and write them on the left hand side. Each time your child tries that food they can write a check mark or draw a happy face in that box. If at the end of 10 exposures your child is still not able to eat the new food, take it off the menu temporarily and try something else for a while. Don’t make a big deal about it simply say that you will try again when they are a bit older. This way you can feel good knowing that you and your child both tried your best and that it’s okay to move on.

Keep in mind when you are working on a certain food to serve it in different ways because sometimes changing the texture can make a big difference for picky eaters. Take carrots for example, you can serve them grated thinly in a salad, as a soup, roasted, steamed or even in a fresh juice!

Be sure to celebrate your child’s willingness to keep trying – even if it’s just giving a cucumber a kiss! All those baby steps lead to big changes one day as long as you keep trying!

What is your best tip for feeding a picky eater?

Published on: August 12, 2013
About the Author
Photo of Kia Robertson

Kia Robertson is a mom and the creator of the Today I Ate A Rainbow kit; a tool that helps parents establish healthy eating habits by setting the goal of eating a rainbow of fruits and vegetables every day.

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Recent Comments

Anyone here heard of Selective Eating Disorder? It’s basically being a picky eater but instead of growing out of it, it can persist into adulthood. I am 37 and I suffer from SED (and have done for virtually my entire life) and recently I discovered that I am Type 2 Diabetic. I attribute this to the poor diet I have had since childhood. Picky eating can be VERY serious – if your child is still a picky eater by the age of 10 or so, he/she needs professional help! Don’t let them end up like me!

I agree! Don’t give up on them. My “picky eater” actually has a food phobia which is like picky eating TO THE EXTREME! We have been dealing with it for 8 years and are finally seeking professional help, however there have been many times when I gave up/gave in and fed him what he wanted. I wish I hadn’t done that so much. I wish I had pushed through the 2 or 3 exposures and got to that 10 (or more) mark. Things might not have been so dire right now.

Your post just inspired me to write a bit about our struggles on my own site. Thank you!

Kia, you rock!. I love this. It’s so empowering for parents (and kids) to understand that food preferences are learned – like learning a language – and it’s normal (and good) not to like bitter (vegetables) or sour (fruits) flavors the first few times. Something bitter may be toxic; something sour may be spoiled. Perfect that kids need to be exposed to the same flavor notes multiple times to know it is safe and learn to enjoy it.

Thank you SO much Dr. Greene! That means a lot to me because I greatly respect your expertise on feeding, you have done so much to help parents raise healthy eaters. I completely agree with you that it is empowering and encouraging for parents and kids to understand that food preferences are indeed learned and that it’s okay to take the time to get comfortable with a new food! Thanks again for the opportunity to be a guest writer on your fantastic website!

Printing out the chart. This is a great way to have a child participate in their successesful eating habits.

So happy to hear that Lucy! Hope you and your family have fun trying new foods!