How to Handle Picky Eaters

By: Alexandria Garcia, Graduate Dietetic Intern

If your child is a picky eater, you might view your kitchen table as a battleground. With common dislikes being fruits and veggies, it may be difficult for your child to enjoy balanced meals. However, the following tips are meant to help ease meal time tensions and expand your child’s food choices.

Keep Family First
Consider your family dynamic when working with picky eaters. Make family meals a routine, limit distractions, and value your time together. Discuss your nutrition goals as a family and choose ones that are the most meaningful and practical.

Exercise Your Child’s Senses
Engage your child’s sense of sight, touch, smell, and taste by grocery shopping and/or cooking together. Pick out something new and have fun by learning more about the food and how to cook it. Go through the motions of eating from plate to mouth one meal at a time. First, by lifting the food to the mouth and then touching to the tongue. Next, by taking a small bite, big bite, and finally, eating it all. This may slowly increase your child’s ability to try new foods.

Practice Patience and Positivity
Be patient because it may take over a dozen introductions to a food before your child will eat it. Avoid force feeding, which can create negative feelings toward eating. Mealtime shouldn’t be a family battle, so keep a positive attitude by having fun and creating a safe environment. Express your creative side by using veggies to make faces on pizza or using cookie cutters to cut sandwiches into fun shapes. Lastly, let your child see you taste and enjoy healthy foods.

Increasing variety in your child’s diet will not happen overnight. Balance your goals and master one food at a time. Remember that it is ok for your child not to like all foods. However, be aware that your child’s picky eating habits may put their well-being at risk. Contact your pediatrician and registered dietitian nutritionist if your child is losing or not gaining enough weight.

Tanner A, Andreone BE. Using Graduated Exposure and Differential Reinforcement to Increase Food Repertoire in a Child with Autism. Behavior Analysis in Practice. 2015;8:233-240.
Nutrition Therapy for Selective Eaters. Public Home Page – Nutrition Care Manual.