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What to Do When Your Child is a Picky Eater


If your child is a picky eater, you’re not alone. Most children go through a stage of being picky about what foods they eat at one time or another. 

We know this can be a frustrating stage for parents, no matter a child’s age. We’re here to help with some tips to gently guide your child on a path of eating healthy and exploring new foods. 

Be a Good Example

Your child is watching and learning from your behavior. You can help lead your picky eater by modeling healthy eating and let them see you enjoying healthy foods. Model trying new foods yourself and invite them to experience it with you. 

Be Patient and Don’t Make it a Fight

It can be really frustrating when your child refuses the food you make or only wants to eat certain foods. But it’s important to stay calm and be patient. Also, try not to focus on your child’s eating behaviors because that can reinforce their behavior. Don’t force your child to eat something or finish their plate. Instead, show your child there is no pressure and casually encourage them to try new foods.

Keeping Offering

It can take over 10 tastes for a child to like a new food, so it’s important to continue to offer it. Try serving a small portion of the new food beside a healthy food they like. Casually encourage your child to take a bite, but don’t force them.

Don’t be a “Short-Order Cook”

Many parents offer a variety of food to start a meal, but then worry when their picky eater barely touches anything from that initial offering. Thinking their child must always eat something, they make a new meal for their child, typically a favorite food. The child senses their ability to control the dynamic & begins refusing food more. This is how we get the “Mac n’cheese kids.”  Don’t fall into this trap. If your child eats minimally at a meal, they will make up for that somewhere down the line (next meal, next day, next week…).  Even picky eaters will eat enough to keep growing.

Share Meals Together

Eating meals together as a family without technology is a great way to model healthy eating behavior and enjoy foods together. Make a balanced meal and be sure to include at least one food your picky eater will like, such as whole-grain rolls or a fruit or vegetable.

Cook with Your Picky Eater

Kids are more likely to try foods if they were involved in making it, whether it’s helping to cook or growing that food in a garden. Find ways to involve your kids in the kitchen that is age appropriate. Toddlers can help wash fruits and vegetables, stir foods, and help measure. Older kids can use age-appropriate knives to chop, stir foods, and measure independently. Get kid cookbooks from the library and let them select recipes to try. Include them on trips to the grocery story or farmer’s market and have them help you find ingredients. 

Avoid Bribery or Putting Dessert on a Pedestal 

Avoid telling your child they can have dessert or a treat if they eat a food they don’t want to try. This signals to your child that the treat food is better than the new food you’re offering. If you find your child is obsessed with earning sweets or dessert, and you’re having battles about it, try serving a healthy portion of the treat or dessert with your meal. This signals to your child that it is just another kind of food they can enjoy and dessert is not on a pedestal.

Make it Appealing

You can help make a new food appealing by trying a fun presentation. Try using cookie cutters to cut foods into fun or interesting shapes. Use foods to make a smiley face or picture. For older kids, provide them with foods to make their own food art. You also can offer fun ways to eat, like using toothpicks, a fun utensil or a special plate they love to use.

Make Sure They Have an Appetite at Mealtimes

Don’t offer snacks too close to mealtimes. You’ll have a better chance of getting your picky eater to eat avoided foods if they have an appetite. Just don’t serve meals too late to avoid having an overly-hungry and cranky child. 

When to seek help

If you’re concerned about your child’s diet or picky eating behaviors, contact your provider at Pediatrics West at 720-284-3700. We can help you troubleshoot, check for underlying causes, and help make sure your child is getting sufficient nutrition. 

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