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Five Fun Habits for Picky Eaters

April 19, 2010

Image courtesy of Bruce Tuten via Flickr

When I was little, I distinctly remember making deals with my dad to determine how many more bites of green vegetables, grilled fish or chicken I needed to eat before I could have dessert. I remember being seated across the table from him and getting up to walk over to his seat – bypassing my mom entirely because I had been trained from an early age that Daddy was who you went to when you wanted to negotiate (Mommy just didn’t seem to bend as easily).

I reached his spot at the table and leaned over to whisper in his ear.

“Three more bites?”


“Four more bites?”


“OK, fine. Five!”

I bounded back to my seat knowing that only five bites of that yucky green stuff on the right side of my plate stood in the way of my bowl of ice cream.

Kids are picky eaters – and often times it’s easier to give in or compromise than to stand firm in their meal choices. But there are a few tested ways to help turn the negative connotation of “picky” into a more positive one filled with fresh fruits, vegetables and healthier packaged goods.

Here are five tips to help your child join the Clean – and Healthy – Plate Club:

1. Share your kitchen experience

The easiest way to make your child an advocate for what’s on their plate is by making them a part of the process. Take them with you on your trips to the grocery store or farmer’s market. Ask them to join you in the kitchen as you prep their breakfast, school lunch, after school snack or dinner. By encouraging your child to join you in the process from start to finish, you’ll make them feel like a valuable part of the experience, which will in turn up their enthusiasm for the foods and dishes you create.

2. Make the kitchen experience memorable

Bringing your child into the kitchen is the first step, but keeping them engaged will help prevent boredom that will have them racing out of there faster than you can say “Nintendo Wii.” Turn your next kitchen experience into a glamorous photo or video shoot that stars your child. Encourage them to explain what they are doing on camera – whether it be mixing ingredients or preheating the oven. When the meal is over, put together a slideshow on Flickr or YouTube. Share the final presentation among the family and encourage your child to come up with the next kitchen project idea.

3. Remember out of sight, out of mind

Keep only the ingredients you want your child to eat in the house. Bringing in snacks that you don’t fully stand behind will make it frustrating and harder for you to say no when they do ask for it. Instead, avoid temptation completely by filling the refrigerator and pantry with fresh fruits, vegetables and healthy snack foods with whole grains, low sodium and plenty of filling fiber. You can still keep treats, of course, but make sure that they are treats you feel comfortable with them putting into their mouths. If you keep the overly processed junk food out of sight, it will stay out of mind at home and your child will become better acquainted with and develop a taste for the treats you want them to eat.

4. Teach as you eat

Seated around the dinner table, ask your child what they know about where the food they are eating comes from. Begin initiating conversations around sustainability, nutrients and food preparation. Not only will you have more topics for table talk beyond how their day at school went, you will also be arming your child with valuable information to help them make better eating choices when they are outside of the house. Pizza and French fries in the school lunch line will be a lot less appealing if they know their turkey wrap was made with fresh lettuce and tomatoes from Annie, the nice lady at the farmer’s market. Kids soak up information like sponges – providing them with good information early will make them more likely to grow up making better decisions and sharing what they know with their peers.

5. Practice what you preach

But awareness and learning can only go so far if you aren’t making those same food decisions. To create change within your child, you must also be willing to create change within yourself. Imitation is a sincere form of flattery and you want your child to be mimicking your commitment to finding great tasting, healthy foods to enjoy rather than developing their own secret stash of “forbidden foods.” Persistence and passion are key: if you are passionate about your child eating a certain type of food, don’t give up the first time they rebel against your wishes. Continue to provide an example of how you’d like them to eat on a regular basis – allowing for those treat days and trips to the ice cream parlor as you see fit – and eventually, your good habits will pay off by rubbing off on your child.


We’d love to hear your fresh perspective!

  • What are your best tips and strategies for dealing with a picky eater?
  • How do you incorporate treats and fun foods into your child’s diet?
  • Do our tips work in your home? Why or why not?

Bon appetit!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 20, 2010 7:09 pm

    These are great tips! As a future dietitian who is committed to child health, I know how important it is to get kids started on the right food with healthy eating so that they establish good habits for life. My tips would be similar to yours – get your kids involved in all parts of the food process (even taking them to a farm to show them how food is grown, or grow some yourself!) and never force kids to eat. Kids have variable appetites – it’s ok if they eat just a little today and a lot tomorrow. They’re growing! 🙂

    Thanks again for the great tips!

    • April 21, 2010 1:10 pm

      These are fabulous tips, Jessie! Great point about the variable appetites. Thanks for sharing!

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