10 effective tips for dealing with a picky eater

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Are your kids picky eaters? Are you tired of feeding your toddler chicken fingers and pizza for dinner every night? Do your teens turn their nose up when you offer to pack healthy food options for them each day? Then you've come to the right place. We've got 10 simple and effective tips for dealing with picky eaters - even the most extreme ones! - to help take the stress out of meals both at home and while on the go.

Do you have a picky eater?

I do.

And I don’t mean that she won’t allow her food to touch, or that she only eats chicken nuggets, pizza, and junk food.

Nope.

My daughter takes the term ‘picky eater’ to a whole new level.

In fact, I just did a tally in my head, and my 3-year-old only eats about 15 different foods.

I’m not kidding.

She doesn’t eat any kind of dairy (or dairy substitutes made with soy, almond, or rice milk), she won’t put bread, pasta, or rice near her mouth, she hates anything sugary (with the exception of mini blueberry muffins and rice krispie squares), she ONLY drinks water, and when she willingly ate blueberry jam off a croissant the other day, I almost cried with excitement.

I used to really worry about her refusal to eat anything of real substance, but after talking with her pediatrician, reaching out to some of my mom friends, and reading a ton of books on the topic (my favorite was The Picky Eating Solution: Work with Your Child’s Unique Eating Type to Beat Mealtime Struggles Forever by Deborah Kennedy), I finally came up with 10 effective tips for dealing with a picky eater.

And now I don’t cry at mealtimes anymore.

Well, not as often as I used to, anyway…

1. RELINQUISH THE CONTROL

Our pediatrician constantly tells me there are 3 things I will never be able to force my child to do: eat, sleep, and go to the potty. He then reminds me the only thing I can do is provide healthy and nutritious snacks for her, and anything beyond that is completely out of my control.

So instead of obsessing about what my daughter does and does not eat, I have a shot of vodka before we sit down for every meal and everyone is much happier.

Kidding!

Maybe…

2. PROVIDE CHOICES

While I’m preparing meals, I give my daughter a choice.

“Eggs or a grilled cheese sandwich?”

“Peas or corn?”

“Pancakes or toast?”

I always know what the answer is going to be, so I’m careful with how I pair them together. For example, if my goal is to get her to eat vegetables, I’m not going to give her a choice between pancakes and peas, you know?

3. MAKE SURE SHE’S HUNGRY

If you’re the parent of a picky eater, you know firsthand that one of the toughest things in the world is trying to get a child who isn’t hungry to eat something they don’t like. So make sure to spread out your child’s snacks appropriately so she’s actually hungry when she sees those green beans on her dinner plate.

4. ALWAYS OFFER SOMETHING SHE LIKES

One of the worst things you can do (in my experience, anyway) is put a plate full of foreign food in front of a picky eater. But I’ve found I have more success in getting her to entertain the idea of touching something that isn’t on her list of favorite foods if I put down 3 things she likes and only one of 2 things she’s weary of.

5. GET HER INVOLVED!

If your child is old enough, why not have her help you out in the kitchen? She may not be able to chop vegetables or scramble eggs, but she can certainly wash blueberries and rip up lettuce, and it seems kids are more likely to eat the food they helped prepare.

6. DON’T FORCE FEED

If you’ve ever read a parenting book, you know that the moment you try to force your child to do something she doesn’t want to do, you are opening yourself up for a power struggle. So unless you want every meal to be a miserable experience, just put the food down, let your child decide if she’s going to eat it, and try to bite your tongue.

7. GET CREATIVE

If you absolutely can’t get your child to eat certain food groups, try hiding them in the things she likes. For example, my daughter doesn’t like bread or dairy, but she has no idea either of those things are in a grilled cheese sandwich. Genius, right?

8. DON’T OFFER BRIBES

My sister and I rarely had dessert when we were growing up, but when we did, it was always contingent on us eating something putrid. Like Brussel sprouts. Of course, my mother’s strategy worked in the short-term, but whenever we saw chocolate mousse in the fridge, we immediately thought, “Ugh, what’s she going to make us eat tonight?” And you know what? I was close to 30 before I would even put a Brussel sprout near my mouth.

So, even though the short-term benefits may seem great, don’t attach negative feelings towards foods by offering your kids bribes to eat them, because you may turn them off of those foods completely.

9. DON’T ACCOMMODATE SPECIAL REQUESTS

One of my friends has 2 boys who are really good eaters, and when I asked her what her trick is, she told me she doesn’t take special requests at mealtimes. Everyone gets whatever food she has prepared, and if they don’t like it, they can go without until the next meal…even if the next meal isn’t until breakfast. Admittedly, I have never had the courage to do this to my own daughter, but I’ve heard other people say they’ve had luck with this approach, so I’m working up my nerve to try it!

10. MAKE MEALTIME FUN!

My daughter and I are music buffs, so I make sure to crank some tunes whenever we’re in the kitchen, and rather than harping on her for not eating her peas, I try to engage in as much positive conversation as possible. It may not always get those peas down her throat, but at least there’s a chance!

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Are your kids picky eaters? Are you tired of feeding your toddler chicken fingers and pizza for dinner every night? Do your teens turn their nose up when you offer to pack healthy food options for them each day? Then you've come to the right place. We've got 10 simple and effective tips for dealing with picky eaters - even the most extreme ones! - to help take the stress out of meals both at home and while on the go.

And if you’re looking for more parenting tips and tricks, please follow our Parenting board where we share all kinds of helpful ideas!



Gwen
Gwen
Gwen is a 40-something freelance writer and social media consultant who has an unhealthy love for makeup, hair, and fashion. She lives with her husband and 8-year-old daughter in Toronto, Canada and hopes to move to a warmer climate someday. Preferably tomorrow.