5 Strategies to Turn Picky Eaters into Foodies

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It’s rare that any parent has said, “Oh my little one eats everything I give them which, by the way, is completely plant-based, sugar-free, gluten-free…” and you get it. If that is, in fact, you, and you are reading this, you are allowed to move on from this article and take a long hot bath. For the rest of you, you’re not alone in the seemingly never-ending struggle of figuring out what to feed a picky eater who is always rejecting your healthy offerings. With some patience and tips from our in-house nutritionist, Nicole Silber, we have five strategies for picky eaters that are tried and true.

Manage Your Expectations 

If your child is eating inconsistently, this is to be expected. Toddlers and school-age kids are great at regulating their nutritional intake based on their specific needs for growth, which change every few weeks. Often picky eating is yet another stage and passes on its own as long as it doesn’t become a control issue. Most children don’t need as much as parents think they do, which often creates a large gap between parental expectations and what children eat. This expectation causes frustration and disappointment for both sides. Want some rough guidelines? A toddler meal is usually enough to fit into one muffin cup. Toddlers 1-3 years need 1 cup of veggies PER DAY, so if you break that up into different meals, you can think of it as 2-3 tablespoon portions per meal. Toddlers need, on average, 15 grams of protein per day. To give context, 1 cup of cow’s milk provides 8 grams of protein, one egg has about 6, and most yogurts have at least 6 grams of protein per ½ cup. Most parents assume they need more, and that is when conflict arises. 

Don’t Add Pressure  

The more children feel you want them to eat something, the less likely they are to eat it. Your job is to put it on their plate, and it’s up to them to decide what they will do with it. If kids hear a lot of convincing or prompting or “Yum this is so delicious.” or “Yum this will make you so strong.”, it’s less likely to be a successful meal. Most parents end up trying to use rational such as “if you like french fries you will like potatoes,” but picky eating isn’t rational, so this strategy doesn’t work too well. Relax and keep reading.

Repeat Exposure 

Eating is an all-encompassing sensory experience - sight, touch, smell, sound, and taste. It can take over 15 times of repeat exposure before they will try it. I’ve seen way longer than this personally and professionally! My daughter Lily went on a salmon strike for over six months. I placed a small portion of the fish on her plate whenever I prepared it, usually 2-3 times per week, and after months she ate it and loved it again. The goal is for children to see the food first. Next, they will touch it, maybe lick it, taste it, and eventually eat it. When they do try it, avoid questions such as “Did you like it?” which have binary answers such yes or no. Ask, instead, a more qualitative Q like “Did that taste sweet or salty?” Now that’s good dinner conversation. 

Small Portions  

Large portions of unfamiliar or unaccepted food can be overwhelming for kids. Instead, try starting with one stalk of broccoli, one slice of pepper, one tablespoon worth of chicken, ¼ of a meatball and build from there. This smaller portion strategy is one of the reasons that Simple Starters are pre-portioned into 4 oz pouches perfect for little ones.  Added bonus: frozen foods are better for serving the right portion size without wasting food. 

Variety Variety Variety 

As the saying goes, variety is the spice of life, and this is just as true for young eaters as it is for adults.  Variety can mean many different things and can be introduced in many small ways. For example, if your child only wants to eat sandwiches, try different types of bread: bagels, English muffins, pita, etc. Or change up yogurt and pancake flavors by adding a dash of cinnamon. Try playing with presentation by using different colored plates, cutting the bread into strips or fruit into shapes. Offering a wide variety of foods and ways to eat them can help break down kids’ resistance to trying new things.  

Find Simple Starters at your neighborhood grocery store or online. 

*Nutritional Recommendations from Nicole Silber, RD, CLC; NYC Pediatric & Family Nutritionist