Tips for Picky Eaters: Feeding Without Fighting

Are mealtimes a battle? Are you at your wit's end trying to get your picky eater to swallow the right kinds of foods? Do you find yourself wondering why all kids seem to gravitate toward those quintessential "kid foods," instead of enjoying what's good for them? Here are a few strategies for keeping yourself sane.

Tip # 1: Offer; Don't Beg

Be sure to prepare and offer new foods often, but don't beg your child to try them. Begging minimizes your power in the situation. Your place of power is that of a role model. Make sure your child sees you eating and enjoying the new foods, but don't try to 'sell' the new foods. If you sell it too hard, your child will see through it.

Refuse to get into a power struggle over food with your child. There are precious few things in the world that a young child can control, and one of those things is what goes into her mouth. Allow her this power, as it will deepen the bond of respect between you as parent and child. Your job is not to force or cajole, but to encourage healthy eating by example.

Tip #2: You Choose the Meal

Many parents ask their children what they would like to eat for dinner. Doing this has two disadvantages:

  • Your child will feel that she has the right to dispute what is being offered for dinner on nights when you do not give her a choice.
  • You may ultimately find yourself preparing a different meal for every person at the table.

Instead, design a meal that takes into account her likes and dislikes. Do not give in completely to her finickiness, but be sure to include at least one familiar and well-liked food with each meal.

Tip #3: Provide a Variety

The key to healthy eating is variety. Make meals as colorful and healthy as possible. Give a variety of options with each meal, such as a meat, a grain, and a couple of vegetables. Present new foods in fun, kid-sized bites whenever possible. Look for recipes designed for picky eaters, and incorporate some of the ideas into your cooking.

Make new foods visually attractive, as well as tasty. Add seasonings, and even some butter or small amounts of other fats. Good fiber doesn't need to taste like cardboard!

Tip #4: Get Sneaky

Pick up a book such as The Sneaky Chef by Missy Lapine or Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. These books have recipes and tips for sneaking healthy foods (such as sweet potato, spinach, cauliflower, and carrots) into the unhealthier kid-friendly stand-by's (such as macaroni and cheese, tuna sandwiches, hamburgers, and chicken nuggets). The idea is to slip similarly-colored and inconspicuously flavored purees into the sauces or mixes during the preparation process. You can do this with everything from pastas to puddings, and your kids will be none the wiser!

Tip #5: Keep Offering

You have one major advantage in this battle that your small child doesn't have: patience. Bide your time, don't show concern about her eating, and keep offering. Even if you're sneaking veggies into her food already, the important ultimate goal is to instill in her healthy eating habits for life. To accomplish that goal, you have to keep offering the nutritious foods. Your child may need ten to fifteen introductions to a new food before accepting it.  To better your chances, vary the presentation of the food each time.  For example, if your child turns her nose up at broccoli, try cutting it smaller and adding cheese sauce, or tossing it into a teriyaki stir-fry. Now that you know that repetitive introductions may be necessary, relax. Time is on your side.

Final Thoughts

Your child, with few exceptions, will not starve herself. She will eat. Don't show stress or frustration about her eating, because if you do, she will attempt to seize control. Let her feel comfortable eating what she wants to, when she wants to, within the scope of the meals and snacks you provide.

I am a mother, and not a doctor. This is parenting advice, not medical advice. If you have a concern for your child's health, please contact your pediatrician.

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Comments 8 comments

KristenGrace profile image

KristenGrace 6 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

Haha, loving the get sneaky part! What a great idea for a hub!

kentuckyslone profile image

kentuckyslone 6 years ago

Good stuff! We have a 3 year old and a 1 1/2 year old here and I agree with what you have said. We should offer them choices but never plead with them to eat this or that.

Freya Cesare profile image

Freya Cesare 6 years ago from Borneo Island, Indonesia

Ah, this is very useful advice. I have picky brother who will never eat if we didn't give him the food he want. What should we do with him?

Kotori profile image

Kotori 6 years ago from Chicagoland Author

Freya, I don't know how old your brother is or how stubborn he is, but most nutritionists will tell you not to let a child preside or rule over dinner. They will also tell you that if he gets hungry, he'll eventually eat what is given to him. I would definitely check out the book Child of Mine because it has a lot of interesting case studies.

Freya Cesare profile image

Freya Cesare 6 years ago from Borneo Island, Indonesia

He is 9 and grumpy about food. He hate fish and really stubborn. He will sleep with empty stomach if he have too and fill himself with snack if he can't get the food he want.

Kotori profile image

Kotori 5 years ago from Chicagoland Author

Freya, the prevailing wisdom is that children will not starve themselves. Of course, this is not true in absolutely every case. However, if he is nine and choosing to go to bed hungry, this is not a huge cause for concern unless it's daily. The main goal here would be to create regular meals and snacks every few hours so that there is always something parent-approved to eat within the next few hours when the parent provides it. This way if he chooses not to eat the food at a particular time, it is not damaging to his health because more food will be forthcoming at a later time.

Rahul 5 years ago

Awesome article...simple tips like these make a huge difference. We got caught up in the cycle of pleading and realized the resistance on our daughter's end kept going up...thanks for reminding us to stop the pleading.

StarCreate profile image

StarCreate 5 years ago from Spain

Totally totally with you on the 'keep offering' front. It's so easy to rule stuff out 'because they don't eat that' and end up with a ridiculously short list of stuff that's acceptable... usually totally unhealthy stuff. You might have to throw some things out, but just keep putting some on the plate, till it gets eaten!

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